Asia in Review Archive 2021

Pakistan

20 July 2021

China sends team to Pakistan to investigate ‘terrorist’ bus attack

(ra) China has sent criminal investigation specialist to Pakistan to look into a potential terrorist attack that killed 13 people, including nine Chinese nationals, in northwestern Pakistan last week. The suspected suicide attack on July 14 targeted a two-bus convoy transporting Chinese and Pakistani workers to the World Bank-funded Dasu Hydropower project in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. [South China Morning Post]

While the Pakistani Foreign Ministry initially said in a statement the blast was caused by mechanical failure resulting from a “leakage of gas”, Chinese officials were quick to blame a “blast” for causing the deadly incident. The following day, then, after traces of explosives were found on the vehicle, Pakistan also said it would not rule out a terrorist attack. [Deutsche Welle] [Voice of America]

No one has claimed responsibility for the recent attack, but Chinese observers said it could also be linked to Pakistan’s leading Taliban group, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or insurgents in the country’s restive Balochistan province. In April, the Afghanistan-based TTP claimed responsibility for a suicide blast at a hotel hosting the Chinese ambassador in the province’s capital, Quetta. The diplomat was not hurt. [see AiR No. 17, April/2021, 4].

20 July 2021

Afghanistan withdraws senior diplomats from Pakistan ahead of crucial Afghan peace conference

(lm) Afghanistan withdrew its senior diplomats from Pakistan on July 18 after the ambassador’s daughter was allegedly abducted, held for several hours and brutally assaulted last week. [BBC] [CNN]

Silsila Alikhil was “abducted for several hours and severely tortured by unknown individuals on her way home” in the Pakistani capital Islamabad on July 16, according to the Afghan Foreign Ministry. Two days thereafter, Kabul announced it would withdraw its ambassador and all other senior diplomats based in Islamabad “until all security threats are met including the arrest and trial of the perpetrators of the abduction.” [South China Morning Post]

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry had appeared to confirm the incident in a statement on July 17, saying that the woman had been “assaulted while riding a rented vehicle” and that it was trying to apprehend suspects. But in an about-turn on July 18, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed expressed skepticism toward the Afghan government’s account of what happened. [Al Jazeera]

The alleged incident came just days before Pakistan was to host prominent Afghan political leaders at a conference in a bid to speed up the intra-Afghan peace process as the United States-led foreign military withdrawal from the neighboring country nears completion. [Voice of America]

20 July 2021

SCO member states call for end to violence in Afghanistan, as Taliban claim control of key border crossing

(lm) The foreign ministers of the eight-member Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) on July 14 called for an end to violence in Afghanistan against civilians and the authorities, and urged the Afghan government to strengthen its position for the sake of stability. [Reuters]

The meeting – which brought together the foreign ministers of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and India – also being attended by representatives from countries with observer status with the SCO, including Afghan Foreign Minister Haneef Atmar. [ASIA-Plus]

The meeting coincided with the Taliban announcing they had captured a strategic border crossing on the frontier with Pakistan, continuing its rapid at a time when the United States is just weeks away from wrapping up its final withdrawal from Afghanistan. [BBC] [The Straits Times]

Spin Boldak is the latest in a string of border crossings and dry ports seized by the hardline Islamist group in recent weeks, including crossings with Iran, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, with the Taliban seeking to cut off much-needed revenue from the government in Kabul while also filling their own coffers.

The seizure of the border crossing – the second busiest crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan – assumes added significance. For it is one of the most strategically valuable for the Taliban, providing the group with direct access to Pakistan’s Balochistan province – where the insurgents’ top leadership has been based for decades – along with an unknown number of reserve fighters who regularly enter Afghanistan to help bolster their ranks.

20 July 2021

Pakistan: Textbooks featuring activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala removed from bookstores

(lm) Police in Pakistan’s Punjab province last week raided bookshops and seized copies of an elementary school social studies textbook that include a picture of education rights activist Malala Yousafzai, a polarizing figure in the country. [The New York Times]

Malala’s picture appeared in a chapter on national heroes, alongside Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, national poet Allama Iqbal, social reformer Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, and others. Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board, a provincial authority, made the decision after writing to the book’s publisher, Oxford University Press, saying the company had failed to obtain a no-objection certificate from the government. [The Print]

The following day, the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation, a body that claims to represent 150,000 schools, launched a documentary, “I am not Malala,” to highlight what it called her controversial views on Islam, marriage and her pursuit of a Western agenda. Attacking Malala for “promotion of Western values” among the people of Pakistan, the association’s president said Malala had “categorically rejected the institution of marriage and suggested that ‘partnership’ is better than getting married”. [Geo News 1]

Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain expressed concerns over Malala’s picture being removed from the Punjab textbook, saying that removing the image was not a problem of a political party, but a reflection of the division in society. [Geo News 2]

20 July 2021

Pakistan: Balochistan parties not convinced by Prime Minister Khan’s dialogue offer

(lm) Leaders of regional parties in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province have expressed their reservations about plans by Prime Minister Imran Khan to initiate peace talks with separatist rebels in the region, saying the decision to do would exclusively lie with the country’s military leadership. [South China Morning Post]

Balochistan is home to the China-operated deep-water port of Gwadar, the fulcrum of $50 billion in projects linked to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). But it is also the scene of frequent militant attacks and a long-running insurgency by small separatist groups that seek independence for the mineral- and gas-rich province bordering borders Iran and Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Khan earlier this month indicated that he was considering reaching out to the Baloch insurgents, who he believes have grown resentful of governmental authorities due to years of neglect by prior governments. [AiR No. 28, July/2021, 2]

Because Balochistan carries a special importance for the CPEC and for Beijing in general, Prime Minister Khan’s move has prompted speculation among some analysts that Chinese envoys would be asked to speak to Baloch political leaders exiled in Britain and Switzerland. Beijing was said to have engaged with various Baloch leaders at Islamabad’s request during a failed attempt at rapprochement in 2015, when the CPEC was launched.

But skepticism towards the peace plan prevails. Referring to the withdrawal of US-led foreign troops from Afghanistan, mainstream Baloch politicians have claimed that talks about a negotiated political solution to the insurgency were only taking place because of “the changing situation in the region”.

They also criticize the prime minister’s decision to appoint Shahzain Bugti as his Special Assistant on Reconciliation and Harmony in Balochistan earlier this month. Bugti is the estranged grandson of the late ex-governor of Balochistan, Nawab Akbar Bugti, who was killed by Pakistani forces in 2006 after launching the ongoing insurgency.

 

13 July 2021

India claims arrest of two Al-Qaeda-linked operatives

(lm) An Al-Qaeda offshoot in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir planned attacks ahead of the country’s Independence Day, police claimed after arresting two men with alleged links to the terrorist group on July 11. [The Straits Times]

The two men were arrested in Lucknow city, the capital of India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh. They are suspected of having links to Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, a Kashmiri wing of Al-Qaeda that is active in the Indian union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

The group was created by Zakir Musa, a former Hizbul Mujahideen field operational commander who had pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda and was killed by Indian government forces in 2019. Earlier this year in April, police in Kashmir said they had killed five suspected militants including the-then chief of Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, Imtiyaz Shah.

13 July 2021

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Khan willing to hold talks with Baloch insurgents

(ra) Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has indicated that he is considering reaching out to insurgents in the country’s restive province of Balochistan, who he believes have grown resentful of governmental authorities due to years of neglect by prior governments. [Dawn] [Gulf News]

the scene of frequent militant attacks and a long-running insurgency by small separatist groups that seek independence for the mineral- and gas-rich province bordering borders Iran and Afghanistan. Pakistan frequently accuses India of attempting to stir nationalist and sectarian tensions in the province through covert operations, an allegation New Delhi routinely denies.

Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa also emphasized how deeper understanding of Balochistan is necessary to create a path for peace in the restive province. At the same time, COAS Bajwa emphasized how Pakistan’s security forces will continue to maintain peace in the province, defeating enemies that threaten the region’s security. [Geo News]

In related news, security forces killed five suspected militants on July 6 during a raid on their hideout near the Balochistan’s provincial capital, Quetta. [Associated Press]

 

13 July 2021

Pakistan: Report by international media watchdog calls Prime Minister Khan a ‘press freedom predator’

(ra/lm) Pakistan last week vehemently rejected a report by Reporters Without Borders that labeled Prime Minister Imran Khan a “press freedom predator” for muzzling the country’s media.

The Paris-based NGO, on July 5 released a list of heads of state and government who it says “embody in a particularly drastic way the ruthless suppression of press freedom.” [Reporters Without Borders]

Critics say Pakistan has long been a deadly place for journalists. The country fares poorly in global press freedom rankings, and since Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan took office in 2018, it has fallen six places (to 145) in the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index. Last month, international rights watchdogs voiced concern over growing pressure on journalists in Pakistan, after a journalist was assaulted by three unidentified men who forcibly entered his apartment in Islamabad [see AiR No. 23, June/2021, 2].

Pakistan’s Information Ministry in a statement the following day rejected the allegations, saying Khan’s government believed in the “freedom of expression and media independence.” [Associated Press]

A total of 37 leaders were named in the report, including from China, Russia, India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Also on the list is Iran, Turkey, and Syria, effectively making the entire Asian continent – from the Pacific Ocean to the Mediterranean – a hostile environment for reporters.

Other leaders on this list include Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán – the only EU politician included on the list – and Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

 

6 July 2021

India: Delimitation Commission arrives in Jammu and Kashmir, meets local leaders

(lm) A delegation of the Delimitation Commission on July 6 embarked on a four-day visit in the Jammu and Kashmir union territory, just days after Prime Minister Modi promised local leaders that elections would be held after the region’s parliamentary constituencies were reconfigured. [Hindustan Times]

The talks on June 24 were the first between the Indian prime minister and Kashmiri leaders since the federal government in August of last year unilaterally abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution, breaking the state of Kashmir into two union territories – one comprising the Hindu-dominated Jammu region and the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, known as Jammu and Kashmir, and the Buddhist enclave of Ladakh. [AiR No. 26, June/2021, 5]

The Commission is tasked with redrawing parliamentary and assembly constituencies of Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, and Jammu and Kashmir. During its visit, the delegation will meet with election officials and political party leaders and seek data on voter lists.

Importantly, the two main regional political parties – the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – will also attend the meetings after they had boycotted regional polls held in 2018. In May of last year, the NC had even pulled out of the Delimitation Commission and accused Prime Minister Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of seeking to divide the union territory on religious lines by manufacturing a Hindu dominance in the Kashmir valley.

Observers say the NC and PDP’s change of heart comes in recognition of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tightening grip over the union territory. Rather than face possible election exclusions after districts are redrawn, the two parties’ willingness to engage signals a tacit acceptance that self-rule is unlikely to be restored soon, considering that the BJP opposes reversing the revocation of regional autonomy. [Foreign Brief]

6 July 2021

Six killed in surge of unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir

(lm) Five suspected rebels and a soldier were killed on July 2 in the latest of a series of attacks in the Indian-administered territory of Kashmir that have left 17 dead in two weeks. [The Straits Times]

Police said the five militants were members of the Islamist terrorist Lashkar-e-Taiba group, which is accused by India and the United States of plotting the 2008 Mumbai attacks that left at least 174 people dead and more than 300 wounded.

The surge in violence came after 14 pro-India leaders from Kashmir held talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month. [AiR No. 26, June/2021, 5]

 

6 July 2021

Pakistan Navy attends Sea Breeze 2021 maritime drill as observer

(lm) Pakistan’s Navy is attending this year’s iteration of the annual Sea Breeze exercise in the Black Sea. The drills, co-hosted by the United States and Ukraine, will continue through July 10 and feature 32 nations – its largest ever participation. [USNI News]

This year’s exercise assumes added significance, coming as it does amid heightened tensions between NATO and Russia.

Those tensions were on display last month when the tracking data for a British destroyer and a Dutch frigate were falsified to make the ships look as if they were operating near Sevastopol, where Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based. The ships were actually in port in Odessa, Ukraine.

Later, Russian fighter jets buzzed a British warship while it crossed briefly through Black Sea waters that are considered internationally as Ukrainian but are claimed by Russia after its 2014 annexation of Crimea. Russia’s Defense Ministry said it also unleashed warning shots and bombs, but Britain denies any such actions took place.

 

6 July 2021

Fast-paced withdrawal of foreign troops may undermine Pakistan’s influence over Taliban, report says

(ra/lm) Against the backdrop of a fast-paced withdrawal of US and international troops, Pakistan should redouble its efforts to convince the Taliban to scale back both their attacks and their aspirations to reinstitute their version of Islamic governance, according to the latest report by the International Crisis Group. [International Crisis Group]

The report highlights how cooperation with the Taliban is crucial for Islamabad, since further instability in Afghanistan could embolden the country’s leading Taliban group Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), thereby deepening insecurity, especially in the tribal areas along its conflict-prone western border. Experts say it is possible the TTP will use its sustained militant presence along the border to create a buffer zone between Afghanistan and Pakistan to, once again, declare a state of the Pakistani Taliban, which hosts Islamist foreign fighters.

The report also outlines a worst-case scenario, claiming that a failed peace process could spark all-out civil war in Afghanistan and a massive influx of refugees into Pakistani territory. It is therefore worth recalling that Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi last month said his country would shut its border to its eastern neighbor if violence and lawlessness reign in Afghanistan following the military withdrawal of both NATO and the United States [see AiR No. 26, June/2021, 5].

Lastly, stalled negotiations could heighten tensions with Kabul and might harm Pakistan’s relations with the United States – a grave concern for Pakistan’s high command. China, Pakistan’s closest foreign partner, also probably prefers that Islamabad work to produce a more stable outcome than a Taliban victory followed by an attempt at monopolistic rule.

In related news, Prime Minister Imran Khan one June 30 again ruled out the possibility of providing Pakistani bases to the US military for counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan. Khan also denounced as “idiocy” his country’s past policy of becoming a “front-line state” in the US-led war against terrorism in Afghanistan, blaming the policy for the persistent security and economic challenges facing Islamabad. [Voice of America]

6 July 2021

Indian Prime Minister Modi chairs high-level security meeting to formulate counter-drone policy

(ad/ra/lm) A high-level meeting chaired Indian Prime Minister Modi decided on June 29 that the federal government would be working towards counter-drone systems, following a drone attack on an Indian airbase in the Jammu and Kashmir union territory last week. [Hindustan Times]

Two Indian soldiers were wounded when two drones dropped explosives on the Indian Air Force base in the southern city of Jammu in Indian-administered Kashmir on June 27. The attack targeted the air traffic control tower, the radar, and a parked helicopter.

The drone attacks followed hot on the heels of a meeting between Prime Minister Modi and 14 pro-India leaders from Kashmir. The talks on June 24 were the first between the Indian prime minister and Kashmiri leaders since the federal government in August of last year unilaterally abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution, breaking the state of Kashmir into two union territories. [AiR No. 26, June/2021, 5]

They also came just days after a car bomb exploded outside the Lahore house of Hafiz Saeed, founder of the outlawed Islamist terrorist Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group which is accused by India and the United States of plotting the 2008 Mumbai attacks that left at least 174 people dead and more than 300 wounded [see AiR No. 26, June/2021, 5]. Citing results of an investigation, Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Moeed Yousuf on July 4 accused India’s foreign intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, of orchestrating the attack. [South China Morning Post 1]

While the drones were not captured, Indian experts say there is little doubt they originated in Pakistan. If proven, the incident would mark a major shift in strategy against New Delhi. For anti-India rebel groups based in Pakistan have previously used classic guerrilla tactics such as ambushes, hit-and-run attacks, remote-controlled explosions and car bombings. [Nikkei Asia]

However, no rebel group has taken responsibility for the latest attacks, leading some in India to point the finger at the Pakistani government. Islamabad, in turn, has vehemently denied their involvement in the attack and called India’s accusation a ploy. In addition, Pakistan said that such allegations would not succeed in diverting attention away from India’s “serious crimes” in the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir. [Dawn]

The attack marks a revival of Indo-Pakistan conflict – especially regarding Kashmir. New Delhi has long blamed Pakistani state-sponsored terrorism for violence by militant groups in the region, a charge Islamabad routinely denies. Experts say that if such attacks continued, India would be forced to retaliate, putting in jeopardy the restoration of a 2003 ceasefire agreement along the Line of Control in Kashmir earlier this year in February, which had ended several years of heavy skirmishing [see AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1]. [South China Morning Post 2]

According to experts, for Pakistan, any increase in tensions threatens to exacerbate an already fragile security situation, adding to existing problems on its eastern flank just as it is presented by a security vacuum on its western flank caused by the face-paced withdrawal of US and international troops from neighboring Afghanistan. [see also entry in this edition]

India, in turn, must be careful of opening up conflicts on two fronts, with its forces involved in a stand-off on its Himalayan border with China that has lasted more than a year and recently heated up with reports that New Delhi was changing its approach towards the Line of Actual Control that stretches from Ladakh in the west to Arunachal Pradesh in the east. [see also entry in this edition]

 

29 June 2021

India: Prime Minister Modi holds first talks with Kashmir leaders since removal of autonomy

(ad/lm) India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has told leaders from Jammu and Kashmir that elections would be held in the union territory after the region’s parliamentary constituencies were reconfigured. [South China Morning Post] [The Straits Times]

The talks on June 24 were the first between the Indian prime minister and Kashmiri leaders since the federal government in August of last year unilaterally abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution, breaking the state of Kashmir into two union territories – one comprising the Hindu-dominated Jammu region and the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, known as Jammu and Kashmir, and the Buddhist enclave of Ladakh. [AiR No. 32, August/2019, 1].

With its special status removed, Kashmir lost its privileges as an autonomy, with major political leaders and journalists being placed under house arrest, schools and colleges being shut as well as suspension of internet services.

The meeting was attended by all leaders of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), an amalgam of six local political parties that is pro-India but favors self-governance in the Jammu and Kashmir union territory.          Two of the PAGD’s constituent parties – the National Conference (NC) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – have filed a petition with India’s Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the 2019 Reorganisation Act that nullified Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood. [The Indian Express 1]

Many Kashmiris fear that the demarcation process is used by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party to divide the union territory on religious lines by manufacturing a Hindu dominance in the Kashmir valley – concerns that led one of the PAGD’s constituent parties to pull out of the Delimitation Commission in May of last year. [AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2].

Modi had first made similar promises during his Independence Day address to the nation in August of last year [see AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2]. Experts therefore believe the prime minister’s change of heart might have been dictated by geopolitical considerations in India’s neighborhood rather than domestic concerns.

The first development pertains to the ongoing rapprochement between India and Pakistan, which started this February but hit a roadblock earlier this month when Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said his country was ready to restart talks with India only if New Delhi provided a road map towards restoring the special status of Kashmir [see AiR No. 22, June/2021, 1].

Moreover, observers emphasize that the meeting comes at a time when direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government have reached a critical stage and the ground realities in and around Afghanistan are evolving rapidly. Specifically, New Delhi likely expects Afghanistan to again turn into a save haven to terror groups that will attack India following the withdrawal of US and NATO troops. [The Hindu]

29 June 2021

Pakistan to remain on FATF greylist

(lm) The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has decided to retain Pakistan on its list of Jurisdictions under Increased Monitoring – often externally referred to as the ‘grey list’ – citing Islamabad’s failure to investigate and prosecute senior leaders and commanders of UN-designated terrorist groups. [FATF] [The Hindu]

The decision was announced on June 25, the fifth and final day of the intergovernmental organization’s virtual Plenary Session, during which the FATF noted that since February 2021, Pakistan had made progress to complete two of the three remaining action items [see AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4]. Islamabad has now completed 26 of the 27 action items assigned to it in its 2018 action plan.

A FATF’s regional affiliate earlier this month had retained Islamabad on “enhanced follow-up” status for sufficient outstanding requirements, while improving the country’s rating on 21 of the global watchdog’s 40 technical recommendations against money laundering and terror financing. [AiR No. 23, June/2021, 2].

During the Plenary Session, Pakistan is believed to have sought to show that it has prosecuted around 30 designated terrorists and their associates, including firebrand cleric Hafiz Saeed [see AiR No. 47, November/2020, 4] and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, leader of the Islamist terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]. But Indian representatives in particular called most of the cases an “eyewash”, pointing out that many of the charges and convictions were timed ahead of various FATF meetings.

Reacting to the FATF’s decision, high-ranking Pakistani officials have accused New Delhi of attempting to “politicise the process”. [The EurAsian Times]

29 June 2021

Bomb denotes near house of Lashkar-e-Taiba founder in Pakistan

(ra) A car bomb attack in a residential area of Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore on June 25 killed four people and wounded 25, but there was no immediate claim of responsibility. [Al Jazeera]

The powerful explosion occurred near the residence of Hafiz Saeed, founder of the outlawed Islamist terrorist Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group which is accused by India and the United States of plotting the 2008 Mumbai attacks that left at least 174 people dead and more than 300 wounded. Saeed has denied any wrongdoing and currently runs the charitable wing of the LeT, called Jama’at-ud-Da’wah, which has been designated by both Pakistan and the United Nations as a front for the armed group.

An anti-terrorism court sentenced Saeed to fifteen-and-a-half years in prison on charges of terrorism financing in December of last year – his fourth conviction on similar charges lodged by the Pakistani government as it tightened financial laws and restrictions as part of its review by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) inter-governmental body [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]. [see article in this edition]

In a thinly veiled dig at India’s foreign intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, local Pakistani authorities later claimed a “hostile intelligence agency” was involved in executing the bomb. Officials also said that the possible mastermind is from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a Pakistan province along its border with Afghanistan, but was raised in Punjab. Security forces on June 24 arrested one of the alleged perpetrators at the airport as he was trying to leave the country. [Dawn] [Sputnik News] [The Washington Post]

29 June 2021

Indian, Pakistani NSA attend Shanghai Cooperation Organization conference

(ra/lm) The National Security Advisors (NSAs)of India and Pakistan came face to face for the first time last week, during a meeting of high-ranking officials from the eight member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe on June 23.

Prior to the meeting, Pakistan’s NSA Moeed Yusuf had ruled out the possibility of a private talk with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval on the sidelines of the SCO gathering. [Hindustan Times]

During the meeting, India’s NSA Ajit Doval proposed an action plan against Islamist terrorist groups Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1] and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) [see AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4] as part of the SCO framework. New Delhi has long accused Pakistan, of supporting both groups to carry out cross-border activities in India, particularly through its intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence. [The Indian Express]

The Indian top official also recommended the adoption of international standards to counter terror financing, including a Memorandum of Understanding between SCO and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental organization that monitors global money laundering and terrorist financing. [see article in this edition]

Moeed Yusuf, in turn, said achieving peace in Afghanistan was the region’s most immediate priority. In a thinly veiled dig at New Delhi, he also criticized regional “spoilers” who he accused of attempting to derail the Afghan peace process. [Al Jazeera] [Geo News]

India also held bilateral negotiations with his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev to discuss “further plans of the Russia-India interaction in the security sphere, cooperation among the security and law-enforcement agencies”. [TASS]

29 June 2021

Pakistan will shut border if Taliban take over Afghanistan, says foreign minister

(ra/lm) As Afghanistan’s future remains in limbo, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on June 27 that his country would shut its border to its eastern neighbor if violence and lawlessness reign in Afghanistan following the military withdrawal of both NATO and the United States. [USA Today]

Qureshi was speaking after his country last week announced that it would complete fencing along its Afghan border by the end of June. Construction began in 2017, despite Kabul’s protests that the barrier – which runs along the boundary known as the Durand line – would divide members of Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, the Pashtun. [The Hindu]

Renewed attempts by Pakistan to secure its northern border come at a harrowing moment for Afghanistan: Last week, the Taliban entered two provincial capitals in the north of the country, the culmination of an insurgent offensive that has overrun dozens of rural districts and forced the surrender and capture of hundreds of government forces and their military equipment in recent weeks. Moreover, donations to the Taliban are on the upswing in Pakistani border regions. [The New York Times 1] [Voice of America]

Qureshi’s remarks came hot on the heels of Prime Minister Imran Khan in an interview with The New York Timessaying his country was seeking an “evenhanded” relationship with the United States based on “trust and common objectives”. In the same vein, in an op-ed for The Washington Post published on June 22, Khan said his country was “ready to be a partner for peace in Afghanistan with the United States” while also emphasizing that Islamabad would “avoid risking further conflict”. [The New York Times 2] [The Washington Post]

Timing and context of the publication of both articles are noteworthy: On June 25, US President Joe Biden pledged his government’s support to war-torn Afghanistan while meeting for the first time with Afghan leaders Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah in the White House. [Al Jazeera]

That meeting, in turn, followed on dire warnings by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, who told Congress on June 17 that would take groups like al-Qaida or Islamic State “possibly about two years” to regenerate the capability to strike the United States and its Western allies. These remarks clearly echoed the findings of a report by the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, which was submitted to the United Nations Security Council on June 1 and suggested that Al Qaeda and the Haqqani network prepare to strike as soon as the opportunity arises. [United Nations Security Council]

 

29 June 2021

Pakistan: Opposition lawmakers, supporters clash with police outside Balochistan Assembly

(ra) Chaotic scenes erupted outside the local Assembly of Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan on June 25, as scores of opposition lawmakers and supporters holding a protest outside the assembly were baton-charged by security forces. [Geo News]

Police said the protesters had locked all entrances to the building to prevent a parliamentary session that would see the presentation of the next fiscal budget from taking place. Their main issue with the budget was that it did not factor in funding for certain development projects that would have been built in constituencies held by the opposition. Supporters of the opposition have also protested by blocking the highways of cities in Balochistan. [The News]

22 June 2021

G20 suspend repayment of $3.7 billion loan by Pakistan

(ra) Member states of the Group of Twenty have extended loan repayment of $3.7 billion of Pakistan until the end of 2021, after the suspension period, originally set to end on December 31, 2020, has been extended through December 2021.

In April of last year, the G20 nations announced a freeze on debt repayments of 76 countries, including Pakistan, subject to the condition that that each country would make a formal request. Shortly thereafter, Pakistan successfully concluded rescheduling agreements with 19 bilateral creditors to concentrate its resources on fighting the pandemic [see AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2].

22 June 2021

Saudi Arabia resumes financial aid to Pakistan

(ra) Saudi Arabia has pledged to restart oil aid to Pakistan worth around $1.5 billion annually in a bid to counter Iran’s influence in the South Asia region, according to reporting by the Financial Times. A senior Pakistani official told the newspaper that the deal would restart in July after the previous oil credit of $3.4bn was put on hold last year when ties frayed. [Financial Times]

At the time, Saudi Arabia decided to withdraw its cash-support to Pakistan, pushing Islamabad to repay a $3.4 billion interest-free loan it had extended to the country in 2018, and cancelling investment commitments of another $20 billion in Pakistan. To avoid any adverse impact of the partial withdrawal of the Saudi lifeline, Pakistan turned to China for financial assistance. [AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2].

Relations between the two countries appeared to ease since February, and both sides signed several agreements during a crucial three-day visit to the Kingdom of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan in early May. [AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2]

The new oil deal comes hot on the heels of Riyadh’s decision earlier this month to shift a proposed $10 billion oil refinery from Gwadar – the focal point of $50 billion in projects linked to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor – to Karachi. [AiR No. 24, June/2021, 3]

 

22 June 2021

EU envoy acknowledges Pakistan’s role in Afghan peace process

(ra) The Acting Special Envoy of the European Union for Afghanistan, Tomas Niklasson, has praised Pakistan’s proactive role for regional peace and stability during a three-day visit to Islamabad that concluded on June 17.

Niklasson also underlined the EU’s commitment to ensuring dialogue and the elimination of violence throughout the Afghan Peace Process. But he also urged Pakistan to leverage on its relationship with the Taliban to encourage the group to deliver a written peace proposal, which they had not yet provided. [Reuters]

Pakistan’s ties to the Taliban have been criticized in the past by the West but foreign capitals including Washington have in recent years acknowledged Pakistan for working to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in an interview last week said his country was fully supporting the Afghan peace process but did not want to be considered the “scapegoat” and blamed if negotiations fell apart. [Dawn]

On June 21, then, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said that the United States should first establish a political settlement before withdrawing from Afghanistan. He also commented on Washington’s last-minutes efforts to secure bases close to Afghanistan to ensure a long-term intelligence-gathering presence, saying that his country is “absolutely not” giving the CIA any military bases to continue the war in Afghanistan. [AiR No. 24, June/2021, 3] [Geo News]

22 June 2021

Pakistan, Turkey discuss possible cooperation in Afghanistan

(ra) Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi met with his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on June 20 to discuss possible areas of cooperation in Afghanistan after the United States and other NATO forces withdraw. The meeting to place on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum, held between June 18 and 20 in the Turkish capital. [Associated Press of Pakistan] [Daily Sabah]

The meeting assumes added significance, coming as it does at a time when when Turkey – a NATO member – is seeking to play a vital role in diplomacy and security in Afghanistan. In addition to training Afghan soldiers, Ankara has long provided security at Kabul’s airport and has offered to continue doing so if it receives financial support from the United States. [Voice of America]

Securing Kabul’s airport is a critical post-withdrawal objective for NATO: The airport is a key entry point for diplomats and aid workers, and the spikes in violence that are likely to follow full US withdrawal underscore its critical role as an evacuation point. US President Joe Biden and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, discussed the issue when they met at a NATO summit in Brussels last week, but they did not reach an agreement.

22 June 2021

Pakistan: Parliament adopts bill granting right of appeal to alleged Indian spy

(lm) Pakistan’s lower house of parliament has passed a bill providing the right of appeal to Kulbhushan Jadhav, an Indian national who sits on death row since being convicted for spying by a Pakistani military court four years ago. Legislation is now being passed up to the Senate, which will have to also approve it before it becomes law.

The bill, which was first tabled in Parliament in July of last year [see AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4], gives foreign nationals convicted by military courts in Pakistan the right to file an appeal before a High Court, as well as to file petitions seeking consular access.

It is aimed at complying with a 2019 ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that ordered Islamabad to provide Jadhav the right of review and reconsideration by “means of its own choosing”. The Pakistani government had already enforced the law through an ordinance in May last year.

Last September, however, Islamabad rejected New Delhi’s request to allow a Queen’s Counsel or an Indian lawyer to represent Jadhav in the appeals hearing, arguing that only a lawyer allowed to practice in the country can be appointed as his counsel. [AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4]

Speaking days after the House session, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said by passing the bill Islamabad had deprived India of an opportunity to have Pakistan “dragged back” to the court. India, in turn, has not so far remarked on the passage of the bill. [Al Jazeera]

 

22 June 2021

Pakistan: Proposed amendments in electoral reform bill violate constitution, says election commission

(ra/lm) Pakistan’s Election Commission (ECP) has informed the federal government that 13 clauses of the electoral reform bills passed earlier this month by Parliament’s lower house are in conflict with the Constitution. [Geo News]

On June 10, the government literally bulldozed legislation in the National Assembly by getting 21 laws approved, including the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2020, which was first tabled in October of last year and comprises 49 amendments to the 2017 Elections Act 2017. It had previously sailed through the Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs on June 8, when only eight out of the total 21 members were present. [Dawn]

Another bill – the Elections (Second Amendment) Bill – which was originally promulgated as an ordinance on May 8 and covered two very important electoral reforms such as the introduction of electronic voting machines and enabling overseas Pakistanis to cast their vote from their countries of residence, was also passed the same day without any debate.

A worry that the ECP has towards the new proposed legislation is that it transfers some of the ECP’s constitutionally mandated functions to the federal government’s National Database and Registration Authority. It also voiced concern over the delimitation of constituencies based on the number of voters rather than the total population.

It also said that using the open ballot method instead of secret voting for the Senate polls might violate an opinion given by the Supreme Court earlier in March. Back then, the apex court ruled that the elections should be held via secret ballot, but their secrecy is not absolute and that the ECP should employ the latest technology to ensure “that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law and that corrupt practices are guarded against.” [AiR No. 10, March/2021, 2]

The two bills are now before the country’s Senate where these may either be forwarded to a standing committee and then be taken up by the full Senate or the rules may be suspended and the Senate may directly take them up. Although Pakistan’s opposition parties constitute a majority in the Senate, the defeat of the bills in the Senate is not a foregone conclusion. 

15 June 2021

Pakistan, Iraq discuss bilateral relations

(ra) Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Iraqi President Barham Salih met in Baghdad on 29 May to express his country’s desire to expand bilateral ties between the two countries. He also affirmed Pakistan’s support for Iraq’s sovereignty. [The News]

Qureshi also met with his Iraqi counterparty Fuad Hussein. Both ministers expressed interest in enhancing cooperation with each other in the United Nations and the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation. Previously, Pakistan had cooperated with Iraq to provide Iraq relief goods to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. [Tribune]

15 June 2021

China, Pakistan to set up joint media outlet to counter West’s ‘info dominance’, according to report

(ra) A new media organization to counter Western-centric narratives promoted in the news is in the works by China and Pakistan. Both countries hope to create a television channel to promote narratives that view Pakistan and China in a positive light.

Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated the importance of giving China a more trustworthy image in the eyes of the world. While China has reportedly agreed to fund the new organization, Pakistan has considered setting up the new organizational headquarters within its borders. [WION]

While China’s internal political and media culture does not allow for open media, Pakistan’s seems favorable for a media outlet to begin its work. However, Pakistan’s lack of financial resources can be overcome with China’s financial wealth – making for a synergistic collaboration between both countries. The new media channel hopes to mirror Qatar’s Al-Jazeera or Russia’s RT network, aiming to include journalists at an international level. [Hindustan Times]

15 June 2021

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Khan holds phone conversation with British counterpart Johnson

(ra) On July 7, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke over the phone to discuss the current situation in Afghanistan. Both leaders agreed on the need to ensure a long-term future of peace and stability in the country. [GOV.UK]

Importantly, the United Kingdom has seen itself as a mediator between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most notably General Sir Nick Carter, the British Chief of the Defense Staff, is believed to have played a key role in facilitating a recent meeting between Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Vice-President Amrullah Saleh in the Afghan capital Kabul on May 6 [see AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3]

15 June 2021

Pakistan’s Gwadar Port loses luster as Saudi Arabia shifts $10 billion deal to Karachi

(ra/lm) Saudi Arabia has decided to shift a proposed $10 billion oil refinery to Karachi from Gwadar, the focal point China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Pakistan, lending further weight to concerns that Riyadh is attaching a declining importance to Islamabad. [Nikkei Asia] [The Interpreter]

During a 2019 visit to Pakistan by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, more than $20 billion of Saudi investments in Pakistan was announced, including $10 billion in an oil refinery and petrochemical complex at in the port city Gwadar. At the time, Islamabad was struggling with declining foreign exchange reserves.

But during Pakistani Prime Minister Khan’s recent visit, the Saudis only agreed to finance $500 million worth of projects in Pakistan under the Saudi Development Fund, a significantly scaled-down economic footprint [see AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2].

Experts say a mega oil refinery in Gwadar was never feasible, because it would have necessitated the construction of a 600-kilometre oil pipeline connecting the city with the country’s consumption centers, most notably the city of Karachi.

Another reason for Riyadh’s decision might be the ongoing negotiations between Pakistan and Russia on investment in the country’s energy sector. In 2019, a Russian delegation pledged investment of $14 billion in different energy projects including pipelines. So far, these pledges have not materialized, but Moscow’s pledge provided Pakistan with an alternative to the Saudis, which probably irritated Riyadh.

Of course, the general global economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and low oil prices will have also played a role. But at the same time, the Saudi petroleum and natural gas company behind the refinery, Saudi Aramco, is implementing plans to invest in a $70 billion complex in India under a joint venture.

Local politicians consider the shifting of the oil refinery a huge loss for economic development in Gwadar, the fulcrum of 50$ billion in projects linked to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). For the decision has shattered the image of the port city as an up-and-coming major commercial hub, which was expected to add 1.2 million additional jobs in the region.

 

15 June 2021

China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor enters second phase

(lm) Less than two months after top leaders of China and Pakistan agreed to accelerate the completion of projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) [see AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4], subtle signs of unease between the two sides over the future direction and subsequent funding of the major infrastructure agreement have increased.

Since it was launched six years ago, the far-reaching project has come to represent Beijing’s wider geopolitical ambitions, with CPEC forming the backbone of China’s presence in Pakistan and symbolizing the “all-weather friendship” between the two countries.    Over the years, however, CPEC has morphed in size and scope. Though often valued at $62 billion, only about $25 billion worth of CPEC projects have so far been developed, giving rise to concerns that the alliance has been exacting on Pakistan’s resources, people and international reputation. [AiR No. 10, March/2021, 2]

More recently, Pakistani government officials have raised concerns over Beijing’s reluctance to provide new loans for the construction of Mainline-1, a $6.8 billion project to upgrade railway infrastructure in the Peshawar – Lahore – Karachi corridor [see AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]. [The Express Tribune]

Work on the first phase of the project was scheduled to commence in January and be completed in 2024. Earlier in April, Pakistan indicated its approval to a revised Chinese loan proposal, agreeing to borrow $6 billion in both Chinese and US currencies. The remaining $800 million were supposed to be provided by Islamabad as equity. [AiR No. 17, April/2021, 4]

But Pakistan has only allocated approx. $39.6 million for the project in its proposed budget for the next fiscal year, which is almost 40 percent less than what it had indicated at the initial budget approval stage. Pakistani officials said they hopes to secure funding from China for the major railroad project in next fiscal year.

Moreover, a subsidiary of Pakistan’s largest Independent Power Producer (IPP) is facing liquidity issues because of unpaid government subsidies. Islamabad’s circular debt grew to almost $15 billion before the government two weeks ago paid more than $550 million to 20 IPPs under renegotiated power purchase agreements [see AiR No. 18, May/2021, 1]. [Dawn]

 

15 June 2021

Pakistan hopes to secure nearly $16 billion in foreign loans

(ra/lm) Beyond the uncertainty on and across its borders with neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistan currently faces another major challenge – debt rescheduling – as the government is planning to secure nearly $16 billion in foreign loans in the next fiscal year to meet requirements of maturing external public debt and finance a $4 billion fiscal budget deficit. [Dawn] [The Express Tribune]

Pakistan’s Ministry of Finance expects $15.7 billion in borrowings for the fiscal year 2021-22, a nearly 10 percent increase over this year’s revised estimates of foreign economic assistance. What is more, nearly two-third of these loans will be used to return the maturing external public debt, excluding interest payment. 

Over the course of the outgoing fiscal year, the government has received an estimated $14.3 billion in foreign loans, the so far highest in the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) tenure. Cumulatively, the PTI government has borrowed $38.7 billion. Between July 2018 and March of this year, the PTI government has added $15 billion in external public debt, while the rest of the loans was used to repay the maturing loans.

Prime Minister Khan’s government is currently in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the next loan tranche of $1 billion that will be disbursed at the beginning of new fiscal year, subject to an agreement between the two sides.

Pakistan expects to receive $3.1 billion from the IMF in the next fiscal year, subject to successful completion of quarterly reviews. During the current fiscal year, the IMF approved a $500 million disbursement to Pakistan, the third loan tranche under the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility (EFF) which should eventually bring Islamabad $6 billion [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4].

Overall, Islamabad hopes to secure $5.4 billion in budgetary support from multilateral creditors in next fiscal year, including the IMF, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the Islamic Development Bank.

15 June 2021

Pakistan snubs United States, says it has focus on its own ‘interests’

(ra/lm) Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi last week categorically stated his country would not give any military base to the United States, in response to a flurry of speculations in this matter. In an interview, the top diplomat also said Pakistan would have to look after its own interests, indicating that granting basing rights to the US is not considered advantageous. [The Diplomat] [The News International]

The remarks came hot on the heels of an article by The New York Times that said C.I.A. director William J. Burns had made an unannounced visit in recent weeks to Islamabad to meet with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa and General Faiz Hameed, the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the country’s military intelligence agency. [New York Times]

The visit came after US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III had frequent calls with the Pakistani military chief [see AiR No. 22, June/2021, 1]. It also followed a meeting between US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Pakistani counterpart, Moeed Yusuf [see AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4], one of the few known in-person, high-level meetings between the countries under US President Biden’s administration.

Burns’s secret visit to Islamabad assumes added significance, coming against the backdrop of recent intelligence reports that highlight gains by the Taliban and other militant groups in Afghanistan, and thus have boosted Washington’s last-minutes efforts to secure bases close to Afghanistan to ensure a long-term intelligence-gathering presence — in addition to military and C.I.A. counterterrorism operations —long after the deadline that President Biden has set for troops to leave the country. [Voice of America]

But the complexity of the continuing conflict has led to thorny diplomatic negotiations as the military pushes to have all forces out by early to mid-July, well before President Biden’s deadline of September 11.

In discussions between US and Pakistani officials, the Pakistanis have reportedly demanded a variety of restrictions in exchange for the use of a base in the country, and they have effectively required that they sign off on any targets that either the C.I.A. or the military would want to hit inside Afghanistan.

Moreover, potential military cooperation with the US has given Pakistan “some space” to delay a raise in power tariffs and sales taxes requested by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), according to Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin. Islamabad is in talks with the Washington-based institution to release the next tranche of funding under the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility, which should eventually bring Islamabad $6 billion [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4]. [Financial Times]

 

15 June 2021

Pakistan: Government introduces bill criminalizing forced disappearances

The government has introduced a bill to parliament’s lower house which criminalizes enforced disappearances with 10-year imprisonment, after the proposed law had languished at the draft stage for more than two years.

Introduced by Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari, the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2021 states that a new section should be inserted into the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and the Code of Criminal Procedure. [The Express Tribune]

Earlier this year, the Islamabad High Court, after hearing a petition on a disappearance case from 2015, ruled that Prime Minister Khan and his cabinet were responsible for the state’s failure to protect its citizens “because the buck stops at the top.”

In March, then, the prime minister vowed that the draft law to criminalize enforced disappearances would be “fast-tracked”, while he met with families of people who had been forcibly disappeared.

15 June 2021

Pakistan: Government unveils budget for next fiscal year

(lm) Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin on June 11 presented a $54 billion federal budget for the next fiscal year 2021-2022, an increase of $4.4 billion over the last budget. The new budget is based on an ambitious growth target of 4.5 percent and tripling spending on public sector development, with an election just two years away. [Dawn 1] [Gulf Today]

16 percent of the budget, or about $8.7 billion, have been earmarked for defense spending, an increase of $28 million over the previous fiscal year. All services have received an equal raise of about 6.2. percent.

Among the three formally uniformed services, the Army – as always – has the biggest share of the pie with almost 48 percent ($4.2 billion), while the Air Force will be given around 21 percent ($1.8 billion). The Navy, in turn, will get 10.85 percent ($950 million), and inter-services organizations are being allocated 20.32 percent ($1.8 billion). [Dawn 2]

The proposed defense allocation for the next fiscal year assumes added significance, coming as it does against the larger backdrop of a thaw in relations with Islamabad’s archrival India, and the withdrawal of US forces from neighboring Afghanistan, which has given rise to concerns that violence among the warring groups could intensify in the absence of a political settlement and Pakistan could face the spillover of instability.

15 June 2021

Pakistan potential buyer of Ukrainian anti-tank guided missile system

(ra) Pakistan is a potential buyer of a new anti-tank guided missile system produced by a Ukrainian defense company. In May, Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited a military test site in Kharkiv, Ukraine, to witness tests of the anti-tank missile system and other combat vehicles. During his visit, General Bajwa expressed his interest in “enhancing defense cooperation” with Ukraine by transferring technologies and exchanging mutually beneficial experiences with each other. [South Asia Monitor]

8 June 2021

Pakistan earns debt relief with four key donor countries

(lm) Last week, negotiators reached an agreement on a “debt-for-nature” accord between Pakistan and the so-called Paris Club group of major creditor countries, comprising of Canada, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. [Arab News]

Pakistan owes nearly $11.54 billion to the four countries, including $1.42 billion to Germany, $175 million to Italy, $5 million to the UK, and $403 million to Canada. Under the arrangement, the donors will reduce Pakistan’s loan obligations in return for Islamabad investing its debt in climate-related activities.

The move is considered as politically beneficial for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government, which has identified debt relief and environment conservation as top policy priorities.

8 June 2021

Pakistan’s rating improves on over half of FATF recommendations

(lm) The Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering, a regional affiliate of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), has retained Pakistan on “enhanced follow-up” status for sufficient outstanding requirements, while improving the country’s rating on 21 of the 40 technical recommendations of the global watchdog against money laundering and terror financing. [The Hindu]

Earlier this year, the FATF gave Pakistan time until June to implement the remaining three action items assigned to it to be removed from the watchdog’s list of Jurisdictions under Increased Monitoring – often externally referred to as the ‘grey list’ [see AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4]. This was the second extension after Islamabad had failed to meet four previous deadlines.

The FATF’s Plenary is expected to decide further course of action on Pakistan’s progress during its five-day Virtual Meeting between June 21 and 25 later this month.

 

8 June 2021

Prospect of Russian President Putin’s maiden Pakistan trip brighten after gas pipeline deal

Russia and Pakistan on May 31 signed a protocol to amend a 2015 intergovernmental agreement (IGA) to launch the long-stalled construction of a gas pipeline in the South Asian country within 60 days from the date of signing for project implementation.

As per IGA, the pipeline will connect Liquified Natural Gas terminals in the southern Pakistani port of Qasim with Lahore in the northeast, as a future flagship project for Pakistan-Russia economic relations. The project is estimated to cost around $2.25 billion.

Although the two countries signed IGA on the pipeline project in 2015, it was not implemented due to United States’ and European sanctions against Russian state-owned conglomerate Rostec, as well as a dispute over pipeline transport fees. Since then, Moscow has routinely changed the structure of its stake – most recently this March – to avoid sanctions [see AiR No. 14, April/2021, 1].

The new protocol introduces recent changes to the project, agreed by the two countries, to reduce Russia’s controlling stake in the project to 26 percent and pass operatorship into local hands. [TASS]

8 June 2021

Pakistan seeks closer ties with China, Afghanistan to promote peace

(ra) Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi expressed his desire for increased cooperation with Afghanistan and China in order to achieve stability in Afghanistan and the region. Qureshi raised this during a meeting held as part of the fourth iteration of the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan foreign ministers’ dialogue mechanism. [Dawn]

The forum was formed four years ago and has since emerged as the primary channel for Beijing to advance strategic dialogue, counter-terrorism security consultations, and cooperation dialogues among the three sides. The latest session was also attended by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and the Foreign Minister of Afghanistan, Muhammad Haneef Atmar.

The meeting comes against the backdrop of US President Joe Biden’s announcement to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan and Beijing’s offer to host peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The latter is widely seen as an attempt of China to put itself in a more active role in the region to prevent that the US withdrawal will lead to chaos in the country and the creation of a sanctuary for Islamist militants bordering to Xinjiang. [VoA] [The New Humanitarian] [The Print]

For a comprehensive analysis of China’s views on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, please consider Yun Sun’s commentary on [War on The Rocks].

 

8 June 2021

Several killed in two attacks in Pakistan’s Balochistan province

(lm) At least eight people have been killed and 15 wounded in two separate attacks on security forces in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan. [Al Jazeera]

In the first incident, a security forces checkpoint on the outskirts of the city of Quetta was attacked by gunmen, leaving at least four attackers and four soldiers dead. In the second attack, an improvised explosive device targeted a paramilitary forces vehicle in Turbat, west of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city.

Both attacks targeted members of the Frontier Corps, one of two paramilitary units involved in combating various militant groups across the province.

In a statement, the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) – an outlawed militant organization that wages a violent armed struggle for separation of Balochistan from Pakistan – claimed responsibility for the attack in Turbat.

 

8 June 2021

Pakistan: Court overturns blasphemy conviction of Christian couple

A Pakistani court on June 3 overturned the death sentence of a Christian couple in a blasphemy case, acquitting them for lack of evidence after they had spent seven years on death row. [The Straits Times]

A lower court had sentenced the couple to death in 2014 for allegedly sending derogatory remarks about the Muslim Prophet Muhammad in a text message to another man. In Pakistan, publishing such images could be a criminal offense on charges of blasphemy, the concept of having insulted a religion or a deity.

The acquitted couple was named in a European Parliament resolution passed in April that demanded Islamabad allow freedom for religious minorities and asked the European Union to reconsider the South Asian country’s preferential trade status. [AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4]

Insulting the Prophet carries a mandatory death penalty in the predominantly Muslim country. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have long been criticized by global rights groups. Moreover, the country is often hit by vigilante violence against people accused of blasphemy. Last month, a mob broke into the police station on the outskirts of the capital Islamabad in a bid to lynch two men accused of desecrating a mosque [see AiR No. 22, June/2021, 1].

 

8 June 2021

Pakistan: Opposition alliance PDM announces fresh wave of anti-government protests

(lm) The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), a joint platform of opposition parties that was formed last month to oust Prime Minister Khan from power, has announced 5 a fresh wave of anti-government protests, after a meeting between the alliance’s leaders on June 5.

The first rally is set to be held on July 4 in the Swat district of the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, followed by protests in the city of Karachi on July 29. The PDM plans to end their second series of protests with a massive protest in Islamabad on August 14, Pakistan’s Independence Day.

Speaking after the meeting, PDM chairman Maulana Fazlur Rehman also denounced the government’s “one-sided” electoral reforms, including the introduction of electronic voting machines (EVMs). Prime Minister Khan’s government last month unveiled a series of amendments to the 2017 Election Act as part of its electoral reform agenda, which also includes two constitutional amendments to introduce open balloting in Senate elections and allow overseas Pakistanis to contest elections [see AiR No. 18, May/2021, 1]. [Geo News 1]

In the run-up to the alliance’s meeting, PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif had launched a fresh attempt to reunite the PDM, offering an olive branch to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Awami National Party (ANP), both of which had quit the opposition alliance in April [see AiR No. 16, April/2021, 3]. [Geo News 2]

But PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on June 6 said that there was no benefit for his party and the ANP to rejoin the PDM, if the opposition alliance did not return to and implement the six-point action plan that all leaders had agreed upon in September of last year [see AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4]. [Dawn]

8 June 2021

Pakistan: Journalist critical of military attacked at home

(lm) International rights watchdogs have voiced concern over growing pressure on journalists in Pakistan, after a journalist was assaulted by three unidentified men who forcibly entered his apartment in Islamabad. [BBC] [Human Rights Watch]

Late last month, journalist Asad Ali Toor, known for his criticism of the military, was tied up and beaten at gunpoint by men identifying themselves as members of Pakistan’s intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – a charge the ISI promptly described as a “conspiracy”. On June 1, then, the Federal Investigation Agency filed a case against the journalist for “defamation” of a government institution.

The attack came after the government proposed the formation of a Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) to “converge multiple media regulatory bodies in Pakistan and expand the ambit of regulation for digital media” [see article above], It was the in a long series of assaults on journalists in the Pakistani capital. In April, Absar Alam, a prominent commentator survived a shooting by an unknown gunman, and last year a vocal critic of the military`s involvement in government affairs, Matiullah Jan, was abducted for a number of hours by unidentified men [see AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4]. [Al Jazeera]

Following the incident, a group of journalists which included prominent journalist and author Hamid Mir gathered to voice their anger at the increased violence, intimidation and censorship of journalists who have dared to criticize Prime Minister Khan’s government. But on June 1, Mir was told that his popular chat show, which has been running for two decades, was to be taken off air. The last time this happened to Mir was in 2007, when military leader Pervez Musharraf, then president of Pakistan, declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution. [The Guardian]

Pakistan fares poorly in global press freedom rankings, and since Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan took office in 2018, it has fallen six places (to 145) in the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index. Earlier this year, Freedom Network, a media watchdog, found at least 148 attacks against journalists were documented within the past 12 months – an average of 12 cases per month [see AiR No. 18, May/2021, 1].

Attacks against journalists and other government critics are rarely fully investigated, but many observers have long suspected Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence services are behind many of them. Some government figures have condemned individual incidents, but the same officials – most notably Information Minister Fawad Chaudry – accuse these journalists of faking attacks for attention or asylum abroad.

 

8 June 2021

Pakistan: Planned media legislation draws heavy criticism

(lm) Pakistan-based and international human rights bodies and media organizations have voiced strong concern over a proposed ordinance that includes an almost blanket ban on negative coverage of the government or the military. [Hindustan Times]

Under the draft Pakistan Media Development Authority Ordinance, existing media-related laws will be repealed and government oversight of the media centralized under a single authority that will regulate “online newspapers, web TV channels, OTT [streaming] content platforms, online news channels, video logs, etc.” 

The ordinance also states that TV news anchors cannot broadcast views which are “prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan or sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan” and that no coverage can be given to any story which “defames or brings into ridicule the head of state, or members of the armed forces, or legislative or judicial organs of the state”. The federal government’s decision on any dispute would be deemed “final”. [Dawn] [The Guardian]

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) have rejected the proposed ordinance stating that it “is nothing less than imposing media martial law”. Observing that media in Pakistan already functions within a restrictive environment, they also warn that the proposed centralization of regulatory structures will lead to further control of the media, with devastating effects on free speech and press freedom. [The News International]

1 June 2021

India-Pakistan relations dependent on status of Kashmir, says Pakistan PM Khan

(ad) The holding of the ceasefire between Indian and Pakistani armies along the Line of Control (LoC) in the disputed Kashmir valley for the last three months has contributed to a feeling of peace and security, according to Indian Army Chief General Naravane.

Calling the ceasefire “the first step in the long road to normalisation of bilateral relations” during an interview last week, the Indian army chief also stated that it is on Pakistan to prevent terror and hostility in order to engage in normal relations. [The Indian Express 1]

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on May 30, however, ruled out the possibility of normalizing bilateral ties with India, saying such a move would be a betrayal to the Kashmiris. While he acknowledged that restoration of trade links with India would immensely benefit Pakistan’s economy, the prime minister also said that stalled talks could be resumed only if New Delhi reverses its scrapping of the longstanding semi-autonomous status of Indian-administered Kashmir. [Al Jazeera]

 

1 June 2021

Pakistan delivers three JF-17 Thunder fighters to Nigeria

(lm) Nigeria’s Air Force on May 20 officially took delivery of three Pakistan-made JF-17 Thunder fighter aircrafts during a ceremony marking the 57th anniversary of the branch. The fighters were handed over by Pakistan defense contractor Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, which constructed the aircraft and was responsible for their delivery. [The EurAsian Times]

The Nigerian acquisition of the JF-17 Thunder multi-role fighter jets is part of an ongoing fleet modernization program that includes the procurement of eight Russian-made Mi-35M attack helicopters and 12 A-29 Super Tucano close air support aircraft from the United States.

1 June 2021

Pakistan, Egypt exchange views on expanding cooperation

(ra/lm) Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan last week held a phone conversation with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi during which both leaders exchanged views on expanding bilateral cooperation. Khan also appreciated the significant role played by Egypt for brokering an end to the 11-day conflict between Israel and Gaza-based Hamas that killed more than 250 people, mostly Palestinians, earlier this month. [Geo TV]

In related news, military forces of both countries on May 26 commenced the “Guardian of the Sky-1” joint air defense exercise, held to improve the experience-sharing and capacities of two countries’ armed forces. [Anadolu Agency]

Both events come against the larger backdrop of deepening defense and security relations between Pakistan and Egypt.

During a visit to Cairo earlier in February, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan and Egypt have agreed to boost bilateral cooperation, particularly in the fields of economics. Qureshi’s visit followed an invitation from his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukri, and came after meetings between President Al-Sisi and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan. [AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4]

In March, then, a high-ranking Egyptian official visited Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF), the largest state-owned defense contractor, and discussed the potential for military collaboration in a meeting with POF chairman Lieutenant General Ali Amir Awan. [Gulf News]

1 June 2021

Pakistan rejects speculation about presence of US military or airbase on its soil

(ra) Pakistan’s foreign minister has again dismissed the possibility of allowing the United States to operate military bases on Pakistani territory as a base for troops or as a staging point for future counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan, amidst warning by the Afghan Taliban that such an agreement would be “a great and historic mistake”. [Geo TV] [Voice of America]

US presence in Afghanistan is set to come to an end by September 11 and Washington is trying to develop options to offset the loss of American combat boots on the ground, and is looking into housing military personnel and assets on bases in neighboring countries. But more than three weeks into the US withdrawal, efforts to get Afghanistan’s neighbors, most notably Pakistan, to do more appear to have taken on renewed urgency in recent days.

For Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi delivered his remarks in the country’s Senate a day after a phone conversation between Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa and US Defense Secretary Lloyd James Austin.

That conversation followed a meeting on May 23 between US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Pakistani counterpart, Moeed Yusuf [see AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4], one of the only known in-person, high-level meetings between the countries under the Biden administration. Both statements described discussions on a “range of bilateral, regional, and global issues of mutual interest.”

To be sure, Pakistan is, on one level, a logical candidate: It borders Afghanistan and has agreed to US basing arrangements in the past. Moreover, with the Pentagon indicating that nothing has been ruled out, Islamabad’s public denials should not necessarily be taken at face value.

Further, the historical record shows that while Islamabad has persistently criticized the United States’ use of unmanned drones to attack militant hideouts in its mountainous border region, it has secretly allowed small groups of US Special Operations units to operate on its soil. [The Diplomat]

However, Russia is already busy trying to counter Washington’s potential next moves in the region, increasing its military support for its Central Asian neighbors. What is more, Russia’s presidential envoy for Afghanistan said on May 24 that Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – both bordered by Afghanistan to their south – will not allow the US to establish military bases on their territories. [Asia Nikkei]

Moreover, COAS Bajwa and Moscow’s ambassador to Pakistan met last week to discuss issues of mutual interests, amongst which is the Afghan Peace process. [The Express Tribune]

25 May 2021

Pakistan appoints new national security advisor, amidst rapprochement with India

(ra/lm) Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has appointed Moeed Yusuf as the country’s new National Security Advisor (NSA), after the position had been vacated since June 2018, indicating Islamabad’s efforts to resume deeper lines of communication with neighboring India. [The Express Tribune]

The NSA participates in meetings of the country’s National Security Council, a federal institutional and consultative body mandated with considering national security and foreign policy matters. The position was abolished in 2019, as Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi at the time opposed the appointment of an NSA, fearing challenge to his mandate.

Observers consider the revival of the NSA to be linked with Pakistan’s ongoing efforts seeking a rapprochement with India. Previous backchannel talks between Indian National Security Advisor Ajjit Doval And General Faiz Hameed, the head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), are believed to have led to the restoration of a 2003 ceasefire agreement along the Line of Control in Kashmir [see AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1].

25 May 2021

Pakistan seeks to deepen defense ties with Ukraine

(ra) Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa last week concluded an official visit to the Ukraine, during which he held several meetings with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and other ministers and high-ranking military officials.

During the meetings, matters of mutual interest, regional security situation including recent developments in Afghan Peace Process and enhanced bilateral and defence cooperation in various fields were discussed. In particular, COAS Bajwa expressed his country’s interest in enhancing defence cooperation with Ukraine on the basis of technology transfer and joint ventures. [Daily Pakistan] [Geo]

25 May 2021

Pakistan seeks strong ties with European Union, army chief tells EU envoy

(ra) Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa expressed his country’s commitment to the European Union (EU). During a meeting with the EU’s Ambassador to Islamabad on May 17 the army chief said he hoped to enhance mutually beneficial relations with the bloc of 27 countries. [The News]

Talks between the Pakistani general and the EU envoy come shortly after the European Parliament in April adopted a resolution demanding Islamabad allow freedom for religious minorities and asked the EU to reconsider the South Asian country’s preferential trade status.

25 May 2021

Pakistan, China celebrate 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations

(lm) Top leaders of Pakistan and China last week exchanged a series of letters on 70 years of diplomatic ties, highlighting mutual trust and pledging to further strengthen bilateral ties. Both sides also agreed to accelerate the completion of projects under the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement. [Dawn] [Global Times]

In related news, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on May 23 approved the establishment of a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Karachi, the country’s largest city and capital of Sindh province. At present, a total of nine SEZs are planned under the CPEC, including three priority SEZs in the provinces of Sindh, Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Since being officially launched in April of 2015, the CPEC has been one of the most watched set of projects under the aegis of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s international infrastructure strategy known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). For an in-depth analysis of into the mechanics of how the BRI is unfolding on the ground in Pakistan, please consider a newly launched research project at the [Carnegie Endowment For International Peace]

25 May 2021

Pakistan seeks broad-based partnership with United States

(ra/lm) Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on May 16 talked to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken over the phone and highlighted Pakistan’s continued support for the Afghan peace process and Islamabad’s commitment to reducing financing and money-laundering amongst terrorist groups. [Dawn]

This was the second telephonic conversation between the two foreign ministers since Blinken took office in January. Their first call on January 29 was overshadowed by the decision of Pakistan’s Supreme Court to release a British-born Islamist and three others, who had been convicted in 2002 on charges of kidnapping and murder of a US journalist. [AiR No. 5, February/2021, 1]

While a Pakistani statement claimed that Qureshi had stressed the “importance of [a] US role” in de-escalating the latest conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, the US readout made no mention of such discussion. [Al Jazeera] [U.S. Department of State]

On May 23, then, Pakistan’s newly appointed National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf [see article in this edition] met with his American counterpart, Jake Sullivan, in Geneva. During the meeting, Yusuf expressed how bilateral ties between Islamabad and Washington should go beyond working towards peace in Afghanistan. Both NSAs agreed to heighten cooperation on other issues of mutual interest. [Dawn] [The News]

Both meetings followed on a meeting between Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Washington’s charge d’affaires to Pakistan on May 12. During the meeting, the Pakistani general expressed his support in promoting a more stable and peaceful Afghanistan, while the US envoy acknowledged Islamabad’s efforts to support peace and stability in the region and pledged to enhance relations between Pakistan and the United States. [AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3]

25 May 2021

Pakistan welcomes Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire

(ra/lm) Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has welcomed a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas reached after eleven days of bombardment, in which more than 240 have died, most of them in the Gaza Strip. [Geo News]

Qureshi was speaking from New York, where he attended an Emergency Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on May 20. The trip was preceded by a phone call between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, during which the two leaders had agreed to jointly draw international attention to the deteriorating situation in the Strip [see AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3].

During the session, Qureshi called for the UN to play a bigger role in stopping Israel’s bombings of the Palestinian enclave. The Pakistani official was one of 95 representatives, including 12 ministers from Arab and Islamic countries, who addressed the gathering, with the vast majority reiterating support for Palestinian self-determination, demanding an immediate ceasefire, and lamenting the destruction and loss of life in the Gaza Strip. [The News]

Along with the Palestinian authorities, Qureshi also requested an extraordinary session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to be held on May 27. The UN did not immediately say how many of the Council’s 47 member states had backed the call, but at least a third must come out in support for a special session request to be granted. [Dawn]

 

25 May 2021

Pakistan: Mob attacks police station in capital Islamabad, demands blasphemy accused be handed over

(ra) A mob attacked a police station in the capital Islamabad on May 18, allegedly in an attempt to lynch a man who was detained there on charges of blasphemy. The mob overwhelmed the police station’s guards and managed to enter, ransacking it. Reinforcements, which included the counterterrorism department and anti-riot unit were deployed to rescue staff in the police station by using tear gas and batons on the mob. [Swarajya] [The Hindu]

25 May 2021

Pakistan: Domestic violence cases spike amid COVID-19 surge

(ra) A Pakistan-based advocacy organization has called on the government to implement laws to better protect women and children, after it had found that eight out of nine research indicators including domestic violence had high occurrence across the country in 2020. Observers say that as Pakistan experiences another lockdown, domestic violence cases are likely to increase.

Because incidences of violence were missing from official government records, the Sustainable Social Development Organization begun gathering data of the registered cases and reported against a total of nine research indicators, including domestic violence, violence against women and child abuse among others.

According to the report, there was a spike in calls reporting domestic violence, amid the nationwide partial lockdown from April to May 2020. In January 2020, there were 2,096 calls, a number which increased to 3,090 calls in May 2020 – corresponding with the lockdown. During the last six months of 2020, more than 1,400 cases of domestic violence and almost 9,500 cases of violence against were reported. [The Nation]

The report revealed that the highest number of domestic violence cases were reported in the state of Punjab, which witnessed a 25 percent rise in domestic violence when the partial lockdown began in April of last year. [Ani News]

25 May 2021

Pakistan: Senior member of Prime Minister Khan’s ruling party forms breakaway group

(ra) A senior member of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has formed a breakaway group in the lower house of parliament and the assembly of Punjab state, following a recent fallout with the prime minister. [The Express Tribune]

Businessman and sugar tycoon Jahangir Khan Tareen is backed by 40 lawmakers of the federal National Assembly and the provincial Legislative Assembly of Punjab. Members of group have alleged that the PTI-led government in the state was targeting them with fake legal cases. Notably, Tareen is currently being investigated in a sugar scam case and appeared before court on May 19 for renewal of his bail. [Geo News] [The Straits Times]

The move assumes added significance, for Tareen is seen as a kingmaker known to have wooed many politicians to join Khan’s PTI, prior to the general election in 2018. He is also considered as having played a vital role in putting together the PTI’s government in Punjab in 2019, efforts that were lauded as instrumental by the prime minister.

By May 21, however, the group seemed to have lost some momentum, after its members had failed to follow through with plans voiced earlier, including abstaining from an upcoming budget session and lodging formal complaints on the alleged vindictive actions against them. [Dawn]

18 May 2021

Pakistan’s army chief hopes for greater cooperation with the United States

(ra) Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa met with United States Charge d’Affaires to Pakistan on May 12. During the meeting, the Pakistani general expressed his support in promoting a more stable and peaceful Afghanistan, while the US envoy acknowledged Islamabad’s efforts to support peace and stability in the region and pledged to enhance relations between Pakistan and the United States. [The Nation]

The meeting assumes added significance, for it comes days after a meeting between General Bajwa and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Vice-President Amrullah Saleh in the Afghan capital Kabul on May 6. The meeting was also attended by General Sir Nick Carter, the British Chief of the Defense Staff, who is believed to have played a key role in getting both sides together. [see article above]

 

18 May 2021

Pakistan refuses air bases for US after Afghanistan pullout

(lm) Pakistan on May 11 ruled out the possibility of again providing its military bases to the United States for future counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan, vowing to protect the nation’s interests and support the Afghan peace process. During a press conference on May 11, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also said his government had formulated an “explicit policy” regarding a partnership with Washington for peace in Afghanistan, further referring to Islamabad as a “facilitator”. [Voice of America]

US President Joe Biden last month announced that the remaining 2,500 international troops will leave Afghanistan by September 11, pushing back from a May 1 deadline agreed with the Taliban as part of the peace agreement signed between the two sides in September of last year. In a following congressional testimony, US General Kenneth Frank McKenzie, Commander of the US Central Command, said he would provide the defense secretary a plan for counter-terrorism forces outside Afghanistan by the end of April, adding that diplomatic efforts were underway to determine where to best base such units. [Arab News]

On May 6, then, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Qamar Javed Bajwa met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Vice-President Amrullah Saleh in the Afghan capital Kabul. The meeting was also attended by General Sir Nick Carter, the British Chief of the Defense Staff, who is believed to have played a key role in getting both sides together. General Faiz Hameed, the head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was also present. [The Independent]

Ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan have become more tense over the past 20 years, for Kabul has long perceived Islamabad as backing the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan. In a statement to German publication Der Spiegel, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani last week claimed that Pakistan “operated an organised system of support” to the Taliban. Islamabad on May 17 strongly rejected the claims as groundless and unconstructive, made a strong demarche with the Afghan ambassador in Islamabad. [Dawn]

The ISI, in particular, has been repeatedly charged over the years with supporting and arming the Taliban and other insurgent groups, including the Haqqani network, a guerrilla insurgent group that uses asymmetric warfare to fight against US-led NATO forces and the government of Afghanistan. At the same time, Pakistan has been crucial in persuading the Taliban to join US-backed negotiations for the organization to share power with the current government in Afghanistan. [Arab News]

 

18 May 2021

Pakistani army chief backs down over Kashmir in backchannel talks with India

(ra/lm) Controversy has erupted in Pakistan after an off-the-record meeting between high-ranking national security officers and leading media representatives in late April had exposed a major communication gap between the country’s powerful military establishment and Prime Minister Imran Khan’s civil government.

On May 11, Prime Minister Khan stated that his government would not resume talks with India until New Delhi revoked its decision from August 2019, when it unilaterally abrogated Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, breaking the state of Kashmir into two union territories [see AiR No. 32, August/2019, 1]. [The News]

The remarks assume added significance, because they come against the backdrop of news reports over major concessions to India that Pakistan’s powerful military leadership appears to be prepared to make. Downplaying it as a mere change of the Indian government’s internal nomenclature, the officials were cited as saying they did not see India’s point-blank refusal to reinstate Article 370 as a serious impediment to talks but were concerned about New Delhi’s attempts to change the demography of Muslim-majority Kashmir. [South China Morning Post]

The remarks clearly echo landmark speeches delivered in February by Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who had advocated a strategic shift towards a geo-economic agenda built upon peaceful relations and economic connectivity with Pakistan’s hitherto adversarial neighbors [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4].

Following Bajwa’s speeches – delivered amid backchannel talks between Indian National Security Advisor Ajjit Doval and General Faiz Hameed, the head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – Pakistan and India suddenly announced the restoration of a 2003 ceasefire agreement along the Line of Control in Kashmir, ending several years of heavy skirmishing [see AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1].

 

18 May 2021

Pakistan, Turkey jointly take tough stance on Israeli-Palestinian crisis

(lm) Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi arrived in Turkey on May 18 on an extensive diplomatic mission to draw global attention towards the deteriorating situation in Gaza, where tensions have been running high since an Israeli court earlier this month ordered the eviction of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

The foreign minister, along with his counterparts of Sudan, Palestine and Turkey, will then leave for New York, where he is scheduled to address an emergency session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on May 20. [Geo News 1]

The session comes in response to a request from the chairman of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Arab Group at the UN. So far, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has met three times, with no concrete outcome after the United States blocked a joint statement calling for a halt to Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Qureshi’s trip to Ankara was preceded by a telephone call between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on May 12, during which the two leaders “vowed to work together especially at the United Nations in jointly mobilizing the international community” to stop the bloodshed. They also condemned Israel’s actions and agreed that the attacks had violated humanitarian and international law. [Anadolu Agency] [The News]

Turkey on May 16 then recommended to establish an “international protection mechanism” for Palestine’s civilians in an emergency meeting of the OIC. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the virtual meeting of the 57-member Islamic bloc that “[t]hese efforts should also include physical protection through forming an international protection force with military and financial contributions of willing countries”, adding that such a mechanism would be in line with a 2018 UN General Assembly resolution. [TRT World]

Pakistan’s parliament, in turn, passed a resolution on May 17 which expressed concern over Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip and called upon the international community to establish an international mechanism to protect the Palestinian people. [Geo News 2]

11 May 2021

Seven Pakistani soldiers killed in attacks by militants

(lm) Four Pakistani soldiers were killed and another six wounded in an ambush in the country’s restive Balochistan province on May 5. A group of militants in Afghanistan fired across the border at the unit which was overseeing fencing installations along the border.

In 2017, Pakistan begun constructing a fence along the Afghan border to secure the area and to curb smuggling and illegal border crossing. Islamabad says about 85 percent of the construction work has been completed, despite Kabul’s protests that the barrier – which runs along the boundary known as the Durand line – would divide families and friends of Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, the Pashtun. [The Straits Times]

Separately, three other soldiers were killed in a shootout with militants in the former tribal region North Waziristan, a district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The district served as a headquarters of Pakistan’s leading Taliban group, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), until the military secured it in 2015 with a series of operations. Recent attacks have indicated a possible resurgence of militant violence in the area [see AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4]. [Associated Press News]

 

11 May 2021

EU and India to boost trade, Indo-Pacific partnership

(lm) The European Union and India have agreed to resume long-stalled talks on a free trade deal, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on May 8. Brussel and New Delhi will also launch negotiations on reciprocal investments and on the protection of so-called geographical indications. [South China Morning Post]

Earlier on May 8, the first EU-Indian Leaders’ Meeting brought together all 27 heads of the EU member states and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Considering that previous EU-India summits have involved only the Indian prime minister and the heads of the European Commission and the European Council, the recent summit signals the bloc’s renewed interest in the Indo-Pacific region. [Reuters]

Last month, the EU Council asked the European Commission and high representatives to draw up the bloc’s Indo-Pacific strategy by September this year. In doing so, the Council unveiled the strategy’s main thrust, which included exploring closer economic ties with India and pledging to foster a rules-based order with “free and open maritime supply routes in full compliance with international law”, without naming China.

Earlier last week, the EU also said that efforts to ratify the proposed EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) with China had been suspended after Beijing imposed sanctions on several high-profile members of the European Parliament, three members of national parliaments, two EU committees, and several China-focused European academics.

For a comprehensive examination of the decision, please consider Chris Devonshire-Ellis’ comment for [China Briefing].

11 May 2021

Pakistan, Saudi Arabia sign agreements to improve ties

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia signed several agreements on May 8, the second day of a three-day visit to the Kingdom of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, after months of strained relations between the two countries over the disputed region of Kashmir. [Al Jazeera]

Prime Minister Khan and his Saudi counterpart, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, held wide-ranging talks on bilateral, regional and international issues in the western of Jeddah, with Khan outlining his vision of a “peaceful neighborhood”. Further, officials from both countries signed two agreements addressing the treatment of criminals, and crime; two other two memorandums of understandings were signed on combating drug trafficking, as well as financing energy, infrastructure, transportation, water and communications projects. [The Straits Times]

Ahead of Prime Minister Khan’s official visit to the Kingdom, Pakistan’s Cabinet on May 4 approved the establishment of the Saudi-Pakistani Supreme Coordination Council, a body created for streamlining bilateral cooperation between the two countries. [Arab News]

Khan’s visit was preceded by a two-day visit by Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javad Bajwa to Saudi Arabia. The Pakistani general on May 7 held talks with the Saudi crown prince and his Saudi counterpart, General Fayiadh Bin Hamed Al Rowaily. [Dawn]

For a comprehensive analysis of potential reasons for why Pakistan’s senior military and civilian leadership has begun quietly reaching out to Saudi Arabia, please consider the Umair Jamal’s comment for [The Diplomat].

 

4 May 2021

Pakistan to seek debt restructuring from Chinese power producers

(lm) In a bid to preempt a possible raise of power tariffs, Pakistan will seek debt restructuring of $3 billion in principial repayments to Chinese power producers. The initiative is part of a Circular Debt Management Plan (CDMP), which aims to reduce the amount of unpaid government subsidies within the next 3 years. [Dawn]

In recent years, China has financed two dozen power plants as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is part of Beijing’s international infrastructure strategy known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Because repayment of the debt is included in the electricity tariff, Islamabad will request Beijing to consider restructuring of the repayments for 10 to 12 years, which in turn will reduce the tariff increase requirements. [The Express Tribune]

4 May 2021

Pakistan PM Imran Khan to visit Saudi Arabia next week

(lm) Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia from May 7 to 9, a crucial trip coming at a time when the shift in the new US Administration’s Middle East policy is providing both countries with a reason to get their relationship back on track. [The Express Tribune]

During his two-day visit, Khan will be accompanied by several members of his Cabinet, including Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry and other high-ranking officials. Islamabad and Riyad are expected to sign several accords and Memorandums of Understanding (MoU), including a $500 million loan agreement, and to discuss the release of Pakistani nationals currently imprisoned in the kingdom. [Profit by Pakistan Today] [Geo News]

The visit comes against the larger backdrop of quiet efforts by both sides to repair bilateral relations, which had led to a telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Khan and the Saudi Crown Prince earlier in March – the first contact between the two leaders in 15 months.

In the lead-up to his trip, Prime Minister Khan on April 28 welcomed the kingdom’s outreach for peace, after Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a televised interview earlier last week said his country wants “good relations” with Iran, marking a break from Riyadh’s usually tough stance against its traditional archrival Tehran. [Anadolu Agency]

Prior to the interview, senior Saudi and Iranian officials had been holding the first round of direct talks in Iraq’s capital Baghdad on April 9, according to reporting by the Financial Times. Aimed at easing tensions between the regional rivals, the secret talks also included discussions about attacks by Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels, who had stepped up their attacks against Saudi cities and oil infrastructure. [Financial Times]

4 May 2021

Pakistan: Watchdog reports 40 percent increase in attacks on journalists

(lm) Pakistan has seen a dramatic escalation in the climate of intimidation and harassment of media and its practitioners, with violence against journalists having increased by 40 percent compared to the previous year, according to a report published by Pakistan-based media watchdog Freedom Network. [Associated Press] [Geo News]

Since May of last, at least 148 attacks were documented – an average of 12 cases per month or every third day. The violations include six murders, seven attempted assassinations, five kidnappings, 25 arrests or detentions of journalists, 15 assaults and 27 legal cases registered against journalists. [Freedom Network]

Pakistan has long been a deadly place for journalists. In December of last year, the International Federation on Journalists (IFJ), the largest union worldwide representing journalists, listed the country among the top five “most dangerous countries for practice of journalism in the world” [see AiR No. 50, December/2020, 3]. Although the Pakistan government says it supports freedom of speech, rights activists often accuse Pakistan’s military and its agencies of harassing and attacking journalists.

4 May 2021

Pakistan: Federal government unveils electoral reform plan

(lm) The federal government on May 3 unveiled a series of amendments to the 2017 Election Act as part of its electoral reform agenda, which seeks to ensure fair and transparent elections in the country. The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party also plans to introduce two constitutional amendments to parliament to introduce open balloting in Senate elections and allow overseas Pakistanis to contest elections. [Dawn] [Pakistan Today 1] [The Express Tribune]

The PTI currently enjoys the majority in both chambers of Parliament and hence does not require the support of the opposition parties for general electoral reforms, save the constitutional amendments. Thus, two days prior to the announcement, Prime Minister Imran Khan on May 1 once again called on opposition parties to come forward for discussion on electoral reforms, including the introduction of electronic voting machines (EVMs), which he said would help restore people’s trust in the electoral process. [Asia News International]

Most big opposition parties have dismissed the proposed electoral reform, with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President and National Assembly Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif saying that the whole world — including the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) — has already turned down the concept of electronic voting. [Pakistan Today 2]

27 April 2021

Pakistan, United Kingdom discuss repatriation of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

(lm) During talks with the British High Commissioner to Islamabad held to review the progress towards inking an extradition treaty, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid renewed efforts to convince London to repatriate former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. [The Express Tribune]

The former prime minister has been residing in the UK since 2019, after a court granted him indefinite bail to seek medical treatment [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]. In Pakistan, Sharif is facing several corruption charges and is considered by the courts to have absconded. He is also facing sedition charges for accusing the military of political interference [see AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3].

At present, no formal extradition treaty exists between Pakistan and the UK, although Section 194 of the UK Extradition Act 2003 contains provisions for special “ad hoc” extradition arrangements. In a similar meeting held earlier in February, Pakistan and the United Kingdom had advanced towards signing an extradition treaty after Rashid assured the British envoy that Islamabad did not intend to use the treaty for politically motivated extradition. [AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2]

27 April 2021

United Arab Emirates extends term for $2 billion interest-free loan to Pakistan

(lm) Following talks between Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his Emirati counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has decided to rollover the payment of a pending $1 billion deposit loan by Pakistan. Qureshi concluded a three-day official visit to the UAE on April 20, his second visit to Abu Dhabi in the last five months [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]. [Al Jazeera]

After relations between Pakistan and the two Gulf nations had taken a swan dive last year due to diverging geopolitical perceptions, both countries earlier this year ratified debt suspension agreements worth $2 billion with Pakistan [see No. 6, February/2021, 2].

The UAE had in 2019 provided Islamabad with a $2 billion loan to strengthen Pakistan’s dwindling foreign exchange reserves. Against the larger backdrop of a struggling economy, Islamabad last year was forced to conclude rescheduling agreements with 21 creditor countries under the G-20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) [see AiR No. 16, April/2020, 3].

27 April 2021

China’s Bank may fund $6.8 billion railway project in Pakistan

(lm) Against the larger backdrop of subtle signs of unease between China and Pakistan over the future direction and subsequent funding of projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Beijing has sent a revised loan proposal related to a $6 billion loan to upgrade railway infrastructure in Pakistan to one of its institutional banks for approval. [Profit by Pakistan Today]

Last August, Pakistan`s top economic body had approved Mainline-1 (ML-1), a $6.8 billion project to upgrade railway infrastructure in the Peshawar – Lahore – Karachi corridor [see AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]. Work on the first phase of the project was scheduled to commence in January and be completed in 2024.

However, officials from both sides took months to finalize the details of the project, mainly due to Beijing trying to avoid any commitment for funding. Islamabad this February eventually softened its position on both interest rate and loan currency, agreeing to borrow $6 billion in both Chinese and US currencies [see AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4]. The remaining $800 million will be provided by the government of Pakistan as equity.

Although it is the largest among the lot, ML-1 is not the only project under the CPEC facing significant delays. According to official numbers, so far, 17 projects worth $13 billion have been completed, while another 21 projects having an estimated cost of $12 billion are under implementation [see AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2].

27 April 2021

Pakistan committed to strengthening ties with Iran, says foreign minister

(lm) Completing a three-day official visit to Iran, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on April 22 said relations between Islamabad and Tehran had taken a new turn in the direction of positivity and cooperation. During his visit, Qureshi met with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif and other top officials to discuss ways to strengthen stability and peace in the region. [Tehran Times]

During the talks, both sides gave border security priority. The two countries share 950-kilometer of borders which demarcate Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan Province from Pakistan’s Balochistan province. Especially since the United States imposed sweeping economic sanctions against Iran’s oil sector in 2019, the smuggling of petroleum products has become the primary source of income for the ethnic Baluch population living across the desolated area. Repeated flare-ups along the border in recent weeks, however, have exacerbated tensions between the two countries, threatening to further destabilase an already volatile region [see AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1]. [Anadolu Agency]

The two countries also reviewed cooperation agreements, with Rouhani announcing Iran’s readiness to help Pakistan meet its energy needs. In 1995, Pakistan, India, and Iran signed a deal conceived to deliver Iranian gas to India via Pakistan, but New Delhi withdrew from the agreement because of security issues and high costs. While the Iranian section of the pipeline was completed in 2011, Pakistan’s energy ministry announced in 2019 that it could not continue with the project as long as Tehran was subject to US sanctions [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4].

 

27 April 2021

Pakistan: Bombing narrowly misses Chinese ambassador, illustrates security threat

(lm) At least five people have been killed and a dozen wounded, when a powerful explosion apparently from a suicide bomb struck the parking lot of a hotel hosting the Chinese ambassador in the southwestern city of Quetta on April 22. Pakistan’s leading Taliban group Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) later claimed responsibility for the attack. [New York Times] [The Straits Times]

The Chinese envoy and his delegation had been attending a meeting with senior Pakistani army officials and were due to return when the blast occurred, and it was unclear whether the Chinese visitors had been the targets of the attack. But analysts say the bombings nonetheless shine a light on security risks associated with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a key part of Beijing’s international infrastructure strategy known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). [South China Morning Post]

Quetta is the capital of the restive Balochistan province, which is viewed by Pakistani officials as an arena for proxy wars between regional and international powers. Islamabad frequently accuses India of attempting to stir nationalist and sectarian tensions in Balochistan through covert operations, an allegation New Delhi denies [see AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3].

In the past, Baloch separatist have claimed responsibility for attacks on Chinese targets. The separatist movement is secular and accuses Pakistan and China of exploiting local natural resources. Previous targets of Baloch separatist attacks included a hotel in the Chinese-built port of Gwadar, the Chinese consulate in the southern city of Karachi, and the partly Chinese-owned stock exchange in Karachi [see AiR No. 26, June/2020, 5]. [The Wall Street Journal]

27 April 2021

Pakistan: High Court grants bail to Leader of Opposition Shehbaz Sharif in two corruption cases

(lm) A Pakistani High Court granted bail on April 22 to Shahbaz Sharif, Leader of the Opposition in Parliament and President of the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), about seven months after he was arrested by the country’s anti-graft body over alleged involvement in money laundering. [Arab News]

In September of last year, a High Court rejected Sharif’s application for bail on charges of money-laundering and maintaining assets beyond known sources of income and ordered his arrest [see AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5]. Shahbaz is the brother of three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who the week before had broken a nearly yearlong silence from exile in London, announcing the formation of the opposition alliance Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) [see AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4].

Prime Minister Imran Khan has made an anti-corruption drive the centerpiece of his rule. But critics say the drive has been politically motivated, using trumped-up corruption charges to target the prime minister’s political opponents while leaving members of his ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) or their allies largely untouched. [The Wire]

 

27 April 2021

Pakistan: Parliament debates expulsion of French ambassador

(lm) Pakistan’s Parliament reconvened on April 26 to resume debates on a resolution calling for the expulsion of France’s ambassador over the publication of cartoons depicting Islam’s Prophet Mohammad. The issue was brought to the floor on April 21; a second session two days later devolved into disorder. The move is widely seen as a bid to appease a militant Islamist party that has led large protests and clashed with security forces. [France24] [New York Times]

Two weeks ago, the government declared hardline Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) a terrorist group and banned it, in addition to blocking travel documents and bank accounts of over two hundred key leaders of the organization. Previously, at least four police officers have been killed in clashes with supporters of group, and at least 11 officers have at one point been taken hostage. Police officials acknowledged the death of three protesters, but the party claims that a larger number of their supporters have been killed. [AiR No. 16, April/2021, 3]

Intermittent protests since last winter were sparked by French President Emmanuel Macron, who last year gave a defiant eulogy for a teacher who was decapitated by an Islamist radical for using cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a class on freedom of expression [see AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4]. In a bid to appease public anger, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government agreed back then agreed to hold a parliamentary vote on the expulsion of the French ambassador.

The group had returned to the street earlier this year to hold the government to the commitment after the French president had defended the republication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Protests then intensified after the government earlier this month arrested Saad Hussain Rizvi, the group’s leader, in a pre-emptive move to scuttle his calls for large gatherings. [AiR No. 15, April/2021, 2]

On April 20, it was clear that the government had made some wide-ranging concessions to the group to achieve the release of 11 police officers who were taken hostage during the week of protests. For under the resolution – offered by the government to assuage the group’s demand for the French envoy to be expelled – any judicial proceedings against the members of the group would also be scrapped. Moreover, local media also reported Rizvi, the party’s leader, had been set free, but it could not be confirmed officially.

The fate of the resolution was unclear, but Parliament’s mere discussion of the matter is widely considered a test of whether Prime Minister Khan succumbs to the pressure from the hardline Islamist group. For it illustrates that Khan’s administration considers the TLP a major threat to Pakistan’s stability, which is already faltering to due to a reeling economy, a new wave of coronavirus infections and spreading social unrest. [The Interpreter]

20 April 2021

India, Pakistan hold secret talks to break Kashmir impasse

(lm) The foreign ministers of India and Pakistan have insisted that their respective visits to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) recently were purely bilateral, days after the Gulf nation’s envoy to the United States confirmed his country was mediating between the South Asian neighbors to help them reaching a “healthy and functional” relationship. [Al Jazeera] [South China Morning Post]

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi started a three-day official visit to the UAE on April 17, while India’s Subrahmanyam Jaishankar arrived the following day. Both ministers held separate meetings with their Emirati counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and other top officials. [Bloomberg

The UAE’s envoy to Washington, meanwhile, has lend further credence to news reports that earlier this year had claimed that Gulf nation had brokered secret talks between India and Pakistan, which resulted in a four-step “roadmap for peace” between the two South Asian neighbors [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4]. 

In a first indication that serious efforts at resuming bilateral dialogue are ongoing, India and Pakistan in February jointly announced to revive a 2003 ceasefire agreement along the Line of Control (LoC) – the de facto border that divides the disputed Kashmir valley between the two countries – and all other sectors [see AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1]. A day after the joint ceasefire deal, bin Zayed Al Nahyan met with his Indian counterpart, Jaishankar,  in New Delhi to discuss “all regional and international issues of common interest”. [Reuters]

There has since been some further movement on multiple fronts, but Islamabad earlier this month did a swift U-turn on plans by the government’s Economic Coordination Council (ECC) to import cotton and sugar from India, linking any “normalization” in ties to New Delhi restoring Indian-administered Kashmir’s special status [see AiR No. 14, April/2021, 1].

20 April 2021

Pakistan: PDM leader extends olive branch to PPP and ANP to rejoin Pakistani opposition alliance

(lm) In an attempt to prevent the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) from disintegrating, PDM chairman Maulana Fazlur Rehman on April 13 extended an olive branch to two former constituent parties, urging them to “reconsider” their decision of quitting the 8-party coalition of opposition parties. 

Speaking after the alliance’s first meeting since the withdrawal of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Awami National Party (ANP), Rehman also said that the PDM would continue its activities even if the two parties do not return to its fold. [Dawn]

Earlier this month, the then 11-party coalition of opposition parties had showed first signs of disintegration when the PPP and the ANP parted their ways with the PDM over the issuance of show-cause notice for supporting the candidature of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani as Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. [AiR No. 14, April/2021, 1]

20 April 2021

Pakistan: Cabinet shake-up sees 4th finance minister in two years

(lm) Prime Minister Imran Khan on April 16 appointed Shaukat Tarin as the country’s new Finance Minister – the fourth person to hold the post in the last two years – as part of a shake-up of the government’s economic team.

Tarin, a former banker, held the finance minister’s portfolio between 2009 and 2010 under the previous government led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), now in opposition to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of Prime Minister Imran Khan. [Al Jazeera] [Arab News]

Hitherto Finance Minister Hammad Azhar, who received the portfolio less than a month ago, will now look after the Energy Ministry. He was given the additional portfolio of finance and revenue after his predecessor Abdul Hafeez Shaikh was asked to step down last month after he had lost a crucial contest for a Senate seat [see AiR No. 13, March/2021, 5].

The shake-up comes just weeks before the annual budget is due, with economists saying the country is likely to record its biggest ever deficit as a result of uncertain government policies aggravated by a third wave of COVID-19 infections. It also comes as the government is gearing up for the implementation of reforms that are part of a $6 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4]. [The Straits Times]

Forced to temper economic growth expectations, Prime Minister Khan announced earlier this month that his government would reach out to the IMF to request a second relief package [see AiR No. 15, April/2021, 2]. The country is also likely to receive another $1 billion in debt suspension in the third phase of the World Bank’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI), and is preparing to pitch Eurobonds worth around $2 billion to global investors to shore up foreign reserves [see AiR No. 13, March/2021, 5].

20 April 2021

Pakistan: Radical Islamist party releases 11 police hostages after violent anti-France protests

(lm) Supporters of an outlawed far-right Islamist party on April 19 freed eleven police officers, almost a day after taking them hostage in the eastern city of Lahore amid violent clashes with security forces. Hours before the group’s release, police and paramilitary troops swung batons, fired tear gas and used guns to crack down on demonstrators, killing three Islamists and injuring dozens more. [ABC News] [The Straits Times]

Tensions have been high in Pakistan since authorities arrested the leader of the hardline Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Saad Rizvi, earlier this month, prompting supporters to hold protests and sit-ins across the country [see AiR No. 15, April/2021, 2]. At least four people have since been killed, hundreds injured and thousands arrested.

Rizvi was arrested a day after he called on the government to honor what he said was a commitment it made in February to his party to expel the French envoy before April 20 over the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad by a French satirical newspaper. Indeed, when French President Emmanuel Macron backed the magazine, Prime Minister Imran Khan took up a crusade, accusing the French leader of insulting Islam and using an address to the United Nations as an opportunity to lambast the West.

But while the prime minister may have hoped the fight would result in an easy win – placating the ultraconservative quarters at home while being hailed as a defender of Islam abroad – Khan’s grievance only appears to have encouraged Pakistani extremists. Scrambling to keep order, a week after having banned the TLP party under the country’s anti-terrorism laws, the government on April 20 also blocked travel documents and bank accounts of over two hundred key leaders of the organization. [Geo NewsSouth China Morning Post

 

13 April 2021

Pakistan Army reviews situation along Line of Control

(lm) Pakistan’s military commanders on April 8 attended the 240th Corps Commanders’ Conference to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the global and domestic security environment. Chaired by Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the forum paid particular attention to the situation along the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border that divides the disputed Kashmir valley between India and Pakistan. [The Economic Times]

Military commanders from both sides in a rare joint statement announced earlier in February they had agreed to observe a ceasefire along the LoC and all other sectors [see AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1]. While addressing the first security dialogue in Islamabad in March, then, Qamar Javed Bajwa called for the two arch-rivals to ”bury the past” and move towards cooperation, adding that the burden was on New Delhi to create a “conducive environment”. He also said the United States had a role to play in ending regional conflicts. [AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4]

13 April 2021

Pakistan, Iran conduct joint naval drill in Persian Gulf

(lm) Pakistan and Iran on April 6 conducted a day-long sea exercise while Pakistani ships were returning from Dubai via Qatar. Islamabad later rejected media reports that had suggested the exercise was part of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the two countries, saying the drills were unplanned and part of a “goodwill gesture”. [Anadolu Agency] [Arab News]

Last week’s exercise comes nearly two months after the Pakistan Navy conducted the seventh iteration of its multinational AMAN exercise in the port city of Karachi. Conducted biannually since its initiation in 2007, the exercise brought together naval forces from 41 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Japan, Turkey, Philippines, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. [AiR No. 5, February/2021, 1]

The Iranian Navy, which attended the AMAN drills as an observer, has been involved in multiple military exercises in the Persian Gulf recently with the participation of regional countries, including Pakistan, Russia and China.

13 April 2021

Pakistan to seek second IMF relief package

(lm) Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan announced last week that his government will reach out to the International Monetary Found (IMF) to request a second relief package, at a time when Islamabad is forced to temper economic growth expectations following a third wave of COVID-19 infections. [Reuters] [The Economic Times]

The IMF approved a $500 million disbursement to Pakistan, the third loan tranche under the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility (EFF) which should eventually bring Islamabad $6 billion [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4]. In the wake of the resumption of the EFF, Islamabad in late March signed seven loan agreements with the World Bank with a combined value of $1.3 billion to oil its drying external financing pipelines. In addition, the government is also preparing to pitch Eurobonds worth around $2 billion to global investors to shore up foreign reserves [see AiR No. 13, March/2021, 5].

Islamabad is also likely to receive another $1 billion in debt suspension in the third phase of the World Bank’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI). In April of last year, Pakistan successfully concluded rescheduling agreements with 19 bilateral creditors to concentrate its resources on fighting the pandemic [see AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2]. The suspension period, originally set to end on December 31, 2020, has been extended through December 2021. [The Express Tribune]

An IMF note on Pakistan released last week showed that under the COVID-19 burden, the country’s economic activity worsened notably, with growth preliminarily estimated at minus 0.4 percent in the fiscal year 2020 (July to June). What is more, the report also showed that Islamabad’s gross external financing needs – which amount to $27 billion over the next twelve months – are still largely met by China: Beijing will provide $10.8 billion under the G20 DSSI initiative. [International Monetary Fund]

13 April 2021

Russian foreign minister on two-day visit in Pakistan

(lm) Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Pakistan last week – the first visit there by a Russian foreign minister in nine years – as emerging strategic realities have led to a significant improvement in otherwise strained and mistrustful relations between Moscow and Islamabad. Lavrov’s talks with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi resulted in pledges to increase the frequency of joint military drills and maritime exercises to fight terrorism and piracy. [Voice of America]

Afghanistan topped the agenda for Lavrov in Islamabad, which – unlike New Delhi – is heavily involved in the peace process due to its close ties to the Taliban and does not oppose Pakistan’s ideal endgame: a future government with a role for the Taliban. [Modern Diplomacy]

In Islamabad, Lavrov articulated shared interests in identifying conditions that reduce conflict, including the “establishment of inclusive power structures.” This was likely a reference to an unelected interim government to oversee the peace process, an idea rejected by Kabul and opposed by New Delhi. [MoFA of the Russian Federation]

Energy was another important topic. This summer, a Russian consortium will begin construction on the 1,100-kilometers North-South natural gas pipeline north from Port Qasim in southern Pakistan to the eastern city of Lahore. Russian support for Pakistan’s energy sector, which includes new plans to invest $14 billion in gas infrastructure, can be expected to enhance Moscow’s influence in the country, one of the world’s fastest growing liquefied natural gas (LNG) import markets [see AiR No. 14, April/2021, 1]. [Foreign Policy]

13 April 2021

Pakistan: Nationwide protests after Islamist leader’s arrest

(lm) Protests have erupted in several cities across Pakistan after police on April 12 arrested Saad Rizvi, leader of an influential far-right Islamist party known for holding mass demonstrations over the issue of perceived blasphemy. Police used tear gas and water cannon on thousand of protesters who blocked streets and intersections in Lahore, the country’s second biggest city. [Al Jazeera] [South China Morning Post]

Saad Rizvi, leader of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party was arrested to “maintain law and order” after he had been trying to organize a march on the capital, Islamabad, on April 20 to demand the expulsion of the French ambassador. [Deutsche Welle]

Founded by deceased firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the TLP party has for years been mass demonstrations across the country calling for all “blasphemers” to be killed. The party rose to further prominence after the country’s 2018 general election, when it secured the fourth-highest share of the popular vote for parliamentary seats. 

Anti-French sentiment has been simmering for months in Pakistan since the government of President Emmanuel Macron expressed support for a French satirical weekly’s right to republish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad – deemed blasphemous by many Muslims. In Pakistan, publishing such images could be a criminal offense on charges of blasphemy, the concept of having insulted a religion or a deity.

In November last year hundreds of supporters of Pakistan’s main Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, took to the street after Macron had eulogized a French teacher who was decapitated by an Islamist radical for using cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a class on freedom of expression [see AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4].

13 April 2021

Pakistan: New law punishes people ‘disrespecting’ armed forces

(lm) In what is considered by many the latest attempt to muzzle criticism of the country’s powerful military, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government is all set to pass draft changes to the Pakistani criminal law that recommend a jail term of up to two years or a fine or both for those found guilty of “intentionally ridiculing” the Pakistani military. [Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project]

The proposed legislation was adopted April 7 by the Committee on Interior of Parliament’s lower house, where Prime Minister Khan’s ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, along with a few of its smaller allies has a simple majority. To become law, the proposed bill has to pass the Senate or upper house, where the government will need the support of the opposition to pass the legislation. [Gandhara]

There is a good case to believe that the draft bill has been pushed by the country’s military establishment, which has, in recent months, come under constant public criticism by Pakistan’s opposition parties. Last year, the former Prime Minister and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), Nawaz Sharif, for the first time openly offered a direct attack on the military establishment [see AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4]

6 April 2021

Russia, Pakistan have developed strategic trust, says Pakistani envoy

(lm) Pakistan and Russia have gradually built “strategic trust” and have developed institutional mechanisms to enhance their bilateral coordination and cooperation, according to Islamabad’s ambassador to Russia. Speaking at a seminar jointly organized by two think tanks, the envoy claimed that bilateral trade had last year touched an all-time high of $730 million. [Dawn]

While a cooling relationship with Washington has already pushed Islamabad closer to China, which is investing about $60 billion in infrastructure in Pakistan, Islamabad’s relations with Moscow are fairly new, evolving for less than a decade. An important part of the increasingly close bilateral relations are agreements on gas supply and infrastructure to Pakistan, one of the world’s fastest growing liquefied natural gas (LNG) import markets [see AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2].

Accordingly, the envoy referred to the North-South gas pipeline, a 1,100 kilometers pipeline stretching from Lahore to the port city of Karachi, as a future flagship project for Pakistan-Russia economic relations. However, US and European sanctions against Russian state-owned conglomerate Rostec, as well as a dispute over pipeline transport fees, have held up the $2 billion project since it was signed in 2015. Since then, Moscow has routinely changed the structure of its stake – most recently this March – to avoid sanctions. Construction of the pipeline, which was recently renamed to “Pakistan Stream”, is now expected to begin in July this year. [Upstream]

 

6 April 2021

Pakistan puts decision to resume India imports on hold

(lm) Just a day after announcing plans to allow limited imports of cotton, sugar and wheat from India, Pakistan did a swift U-turn over the decision, linking any “normalization” in ties to New Delhi restoring Indian-administered Kashmir’s special status. Bilateral trade has been suspended since August 2019, but a series of signs of rapprochement had recently indicated a potential thaw in relations. [Reuters] [The Hindu] [The Straits Times 1]

The U-turn was considered an embarrassment for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government, in particular for the newly appointed Finance Minister Hammad Azhar, who on March 31 had announced clearances by the Economic Coordination Council (ECC) for imports of sugar and cotton from India. The decision came against the backdrop of high domestic prices coupled with low yield in Pakistan last year. [The Indian Express]

In late February, India and Pakistan had jointly announced to revive a 2003 ceasefire agreement along the Line of Control (LoC) – the de facto border that divides the disputed Kashmir valley between the two countries – and all other sectors [see AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1]. News reports later claimed that the ceasefire was the first milestone of a four-step “roadmap for peace” between the two South Asian neighbors, which was agreed upon during secret talks brokered by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that began months earlier [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4].

To be sure, even the short-term durability of this ceasefire remains uncertain, considering that progress in bilateral relations has usually been short-lived and this checkered opening will not be the last. Still, within weeks of the announcement in February, there has been some movement on multiple fronts with renewal of sports ties and discussions on the Indus Water Treaty.

Moreover, Prime Minister Khan and Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, had both recently adopted a softer tone, with the latter speaking of the need for both Pakistan and India to “bury the past and move forward”, whilst attending the first Islamabad Security Dialogue [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4].

Most recently, in yet another sign of thawing relations, Prime Minister Khan on March 30 replied to a letter written by his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, calling for the creation of an “enabling environment” between the two countries to resolve outstanding issues. The Indian prime minister had written to Khan on the occasion of Pakistan’s Republic Day on March 23, also calling for peaceful relations between the two nuclear-armed rivals. [The Straits Times 2]

6 April 2021

Pakistan: With its two major constituent parties at loggerheads, opposition alliance reaches crossroads

(lm) After maintaining an uncharacteristically stable union for months, the 11-party coalition of opposition parties, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), shows signs of disintegration, with its two major constituent parties at loggerheads. During a meeting of opposition parties on March 2, a five-party faction of the PDM announced to form a new opposition alliance in the Senate – skipping out on Senators from the PPP and the Awami National Party (ANP). [Dawn 1]

Previously, the appointment of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4] as leader of the opposition in the upper house of Parliament had already widened the gulf between the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

Prior to Gilani’s appointment, the PPP had agreed to giving the office of the opposition leader in Parliament’s lower house to the PML-N as a quid pro quo for the nomination of Gilani for the office of Senate chairman. But the former prime minister lost the election to the incumbent after seven of his votes were rejected by the presiding officer. PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari then insisted his party had a right to nominate the leader of the opposition in the Senate and carried through with Gilani’s election, despite opposition from the PML-N. [Dawn 2]

Moreover, the PDM earlier in March was forced to postpone its long march on the capital, Islamabad, after the PPP had sought more time to reconsider its position on the issue of mass resignations and said it would first consult internally with the party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4]. While the PML-N, alongside with the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) (JUI (F)) was quite keen to resign en masse from Parliament, the PPP was understandably reluctant considering it is in power in Sindh and the second largest party in the Senate. [Pakistan Today]

 

30 March 2021

Pakistan: Prosecution failed to prove guilt of main accused in murder case of US journalist, says apex court

(lm) Pakistan’s Supreme Court (SC) has criticized the prosecution for its failure to prove the guilt of the main accused in the case on kidnapping and murder of an American journalist. In its judgement, the apex court on March 26 held that the evidence furnished during the trial against British-born Islamist Ahmed Saeed Omar Sheikh was full of factual and legal defects. [The New Indian Express

Before, the SC in February had affirmed a lower court’s decision to acquit Sheikh and his three co-conspirators of all charges – except abduction – and recommended that Sheikh be transferred to a government safe house as a steppingstone to his full release after spending 18 years on death row [see AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2]. Soon thereafter, the journalist’s family had filed a review petition, joining Pakistan’s federal government and the provincial government of Sindh in seeking a reversal of the acquittal. [Dawn]

Sheikh always denied his role, and questions remained over whether he had actually carried out the killing, or just been a secondary figure involved in the kidnapping. A recently revealed letter showed Sheikh seeming to admit a “relatively minor” role in the journalist’s murder for the first time, although his lawyer says this was written under duress. Just days before the SC’s ruling, Sheikh was transferred to a government safe house, frustrating efforts by the government and the journalist’s family to keep him in jail. [The Times]

30 March 2021

Pakistan: Government establishes anti-rape crisis cells

(lm) In the wake of rising cases of rape, assault and sexual abuse in Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has decided to set up “Anti-Rape Crisis Cells” in every district of the country. The Ministry of Law and Justice has constituted a 42-member Special Committee to oversee the establishment of the cells. The Committee is also entitled to prepare recommendations for the prime minister’s approval regarding the investigation and prosecution of incidents of sexual assault. [Pakistan Today] [Ministry of Human Rights]

The setting-up of the Committee follows on a decision by a Cabinet committee last November, which had approved two ordinances to introduce strict punishments for sex offenders, including chemical castration, and setting up special courts to expedite rape trials. The legislation came months after Prime Minister Imran Khan had promised to remove deficiencies in existing legislation to expedite justice for rape victims [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4].

The country ranks 154th on the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s 2020 Gender Inequality Index and 151st, or third-last, on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2020. [UNDP] [World Economic Forum]

30 March 2021

Pakistan: Killing of teenagers sparks protest caravan in country’s former tribal region

(lm) About 3,000 demonstrators in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province launched a protest caravan early on March 28 to demand a government probe into the deaths of four young men who they allege died during interrogation by security forces. In their attempt to reach Islamabad, the caravan tried to break through a police blockade, prompting security forces to fire tear gas at the protesters. Following overnight talks with government officials, leaders of the protest called off the demonstration on March 29. [Gandhara 1]

Many participants in the protest caravan were part of a sit-in protest that began nearly a week earlier in a town located on the border of the former tribal region of North Waziristan, after the bullet-riddled corpses of the four teenagers were discovered in a field. [Gandhara 2] [The Straits Times]

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province comprises the former semi-autonomous tribal areas, where Pakistan’s military has launched a series of operations since 2014, forcing Pakistan’s leading Taliban group, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), to take sanctuary over the border in Afghanistan [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]. Rights groups have accused the military of carrying out extrajudicial detentions and other abuses in the area – a charge the military has consistently denied.

30 March 2021

Pakistan: Prime Minister Khan appoints new finance minister

(lm) Pakistan’s Prime Minister on March 29 removed Finance Minister Hafeez Shaikh, who had lost a crucial contest for a Senate seat earlier this month [see AiR No. 10, March/2021, 2], as part of a government shake-up aimed at bringing in policies to control “rising inflation”. Succeeding Shaikh is hitherto Industries and Production Minister Hammad Azhar. [Anadolu Agency] [Nikkei Asia]

The change in personnel comes shortly after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on March 24 approved a $500 million disbursement to Pakistan, the third loan tranche under the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility (EFF) which should eventually bring Islamabad $6 billion [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4]. Pakistan had entered the EFF in 2019, but the program was suspended last April after Islamabad had failed to meet all requirements [see AiR No. 14, April/2020, 1]. [Reuters]

In the wake of the resumption of the EFF, Islamabad on March 26 signed seven loan agreements with the World Bank with a combined value of $1.3 billion to oil its drying external financing pipelines. In addition, the government is also preparing to pitch Eurobonds worth around $2 billion to global investors to shore up foreign reserves. [The Express Tribune 1] [The Express Tribune 2]

23 March 2021

India’s arms imports dip by 33 percent; Pakistan emerges a major importer

(lm) India’s arm imports have decreased by a whopping 33 percent in the second half of the decade, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), indicating that the country’s drive towards Atmanirbhar Bharat (‘self-reliant India) is showing first results. What is more, Pakistan has emerged as one of the largest arms importers in the Asia-Pacific during the same period, accounting for 2.7 percent of major defense imports globally. [The EurAsian Times]

The report on international arms transfers, which was published on March 15, attributed the drop in India’s arms imports mainly to an attempt to reduce dependence on Russia. In fact, arms exports by Moscow, which accounted for 20 percent of all exports of major arms between 2016 and 2020, dropped by 22 percent, according to the report. Importantly, the bulk – around 90 percent – of this decrease was attributable to a 53 percent fall in its arms exports to India. [Hindustan Times]

Pakistan, in turn, has imported about eight large arms or weapons systems from five different nations during 2016-20 with an aim to improve and enhance the capabilities of the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) and Navy. Notably, China accounts for about 74 percent of the country’s arms imports – up from 61 percent during the first half of the decade – followed by Russia and Italy, which account for 6.6 percent and 5.9 percent, respectfully.

23 March 2021

International Monetary Fund likely to resume Pakistan’s loan program

(lm) The IMF’s Executive Board is expected to meet on March 24 to approve Pakistan’s request for completion of the second of a total of four reviews and modify performance criteria as well as structural benchmarks both sides had agreed upon during a staff-level meeting in February [see AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4]. [The Express Tribune]

The executive board’s approval would pave the way for release of $500 million to Pakistan, the third loan tranche under the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility (EFF), which should eventually bring Pakistan $6 billion. Pakistan entered the EFF in 2019, but the program was suspended last April after Islamabad had failed to meet all requirements [see AiR No. 14, April/2020, 1].

However, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s decision to delay some critical decisions pertaining to rationalizing expenditure, increasing electricity prices and tax revenue, among others, has not only significantly increased the workload of the key ministries involved in the program. More importantly, it has also led the government to shortening the legislative process by promulgating the proposed measures through presidential ordinances. [Dawn] [Daily Times]

There is a good case to believe that the defeat of incumbent Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh in a crucial contest for the senate seat representing Islamabad has shaped the government’s perception. For Shaikh, who is a key member in charge of the government’s economic policies and reforms plan under the IMF’s loan program, had to win a Parliament seat to continue as the finance minister after June 11. [AiR No. 10, March/2021, 2].

 

23 March 2021

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurates country’s first security dialogue

(lm) Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated on March 17 the first security dialogue in Islamabad, saying that food security and climate change will be given the most importance. The Islamabad Security Dialogue is being organized by Pakistan’s National Security Division (NSD) in collaboration with its advisory board, comprising five leading think tanks of the country. The conference aims to define the country’s new strategic direction in line with the prime minister’s vision. [Dawn] [Geo TV]

Commenting on regional peace and stability, Khan called on India to move towards resolving the contentious territorial conflict over the Kashmir region. Further elaborating, Khan said India’s decision to unilaterally end the constitutional autonomy of the Indian-administered territories [see AiR No. 32, August/2019, 1] was behind the breakdown of ties between the neighbors. Interestingly, the prime minister appeared to indicate that talks on Kashmir could pave the way for a discussion on trade-related issues between the two countries. [The Straits Times]

The following day, Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa called for the two arch-rivals to ‘bury the past’ and move towards cooperation, adding that the burden was on New Delhi to create a ‘conducive environment’. He also said the United States had a role to play in ending regional conflicts. Timing and context of the remarks are noteworthy, considering that US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin commenced a three-day working visit to New Delhi later that week [see AiR No. 11, March/2021, 3]. [The Straits Times 2]

The two nations recently adopted a softer tone. Military commanders from both sides in a rare joint statement announced on February 25 they had agreed to observe a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) – the de facto border that divides the disputed Kashmir valley between the two countries – and all other sectors. [AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1]

Looking at energy security next, the prime minister said that neighboring Iran had the capacity to meet Islamabad’s energy needs. In 1995, Pakistan, India, and Iran signed a deal conceived to deliver Iranian gas to India via Pakistan, but New Delhi withdrew from the agreement because of security issues and high costs. While the Iranian section of the pipeline was completed in 2011, Pakistan’s energy ministry announced in 2019 that it could not continue with the project as long as Tehran was subject to US sanctions. [Middle East Monitor]

 

23 March 2021

India, Pakistan set for water-sharing talks, indicating larger diplomatic roadmap towards peace

(lm) India and Pakistan will hold the first meeting in three years of a bilateral commission created to implement and manage the goals and objectives and outlines of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) on March 23. At the forthcoming talks, the Pakistani side is likely to raise its objections regarding at least two Indian hydroelectric plants located at shared rivers. Islamabad is also expected to seek information on new projects planned by India on western rivers, and flood data arrangements for the flood season. [Hindustan Times] [The Straits Times]

The Permanent Indus Commission is supposed to meet at least once a year – alternately in India and Pakistan – under the IWT, which governs water usage on the Indus and its tributaries that flow through the two countries. Hence, the talks represent a thawing in bilateral ties, which have been frozen since the 2019 Pulwama suicide attacks that killed 40 Indian soldiers in the Indian-administered Kashmir town of Pulwama [see AiR (3/2/2019)AiR (4/2/2019)], and India’s decision later that year to strip the region’s constitutional autonomy in order to bring it into closer embrace [see AiR No. 32, August/2019, 1].

What is more, the reconvening of the Commission follows a rare military agreement this month to observe a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) – the de facto border that divides the disputed Kashmir valley between the two countries – and all other sectors [see AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1].

Coming like a bolt from the blue, the agreement had triggered speculations about the causes that lie behind it, with many observers suggesting that China or the United States had been the driving force. News reports published on March 22, however, claim that the India-Pakistan ceasefire marked the first milestone of a four-step “roadmap for peace” between the two South Asian neighbors, which was agreed upon during secret talks brokered by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that began months earlier.[Bloomberg] [The Hindu]

The next step in the process involves both sides reinstating envoys in New Delhi and Islamabad, who were pulled in 2019 after Pakistan protested against India’s move to unilaterally abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution, thereby breaking the Indian-administered part of Kashmir into two union territories. Then comes the hard part: talks on resuming trade and a lasting resolution on Kashmir, the subject of three wars since India and Pakistan became independent from Britain in 1947.

Several clues over the past few months pointed at the UAE’s role. In November, Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar Jaishankar met with his counterpart from the UAE, Abdullah bin Zayid Al Nahyan, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan during a two-day working visit to Abu Dhabi. The trip was followed by a visit to Abu Dhabi from Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi the following month.

Roughly two weeks before the February 25 announcement, the UAE foreign minister held a phone call with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan “wherein they discussed regional and international issues of interest”. And just days before, India allowed the prime minister’s aircraft to fly over Indian airspace as he headed to Sri Lanka for a state visit – a practice suspended since the 2019 hostilities [see AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4].

23 March 2021

Pakistan: Over 170 killed in Balochistan in 2020, according to local human rights council

(lm) 480 individuals were secretly abducted and another 177 killed with their body concealed after the fact in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province, according to a report published by the Human Rights Council of Balochistan, which was published on March 17. However, the statistics only capture a small fracture of the true number of cases, according to members of the rights group, as numbers were derived from the information accessible to them from various areas of Balochistan. [The Balochistan Post]

23 March 2021

Pakistan: Government urged to probe killing of journalist

(lm) The New York-based advocacy group “Committee to Protect Journalists” (CPJ) has called on authorities in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh to conduct a “credible” investigation into the killing of a journalist last week. [CPJ]

The journalist died in a hospital on March 16, a day after unknown assailants riding a motorcycle and a car with four passengers had opened fire on him while he was sitting in a barbershop. Local police has announced the formation of a team to investigate the killing, insisting that they were in the process of collecting evidence and recording statements from witnesses to ascertain the cause of the crime. [Voice of America]

 

23 March 2021

Pakistan: Opposition alliance fails to build consensus on mass resignation

(lm) The Pakistan Democratic Movement – an 11-party coalition of opposition parties – has postponed their long march on the capital, Islamabad, after the group failed to reach a consensus on the mass resignation of their members from provincial and national assemblies. 

PDM President Maulana Fazlur Rehman said on March 16 the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had sought more time to reconsider its position on the issue of mass resignations and said it would first consult internally with the party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC). Other leaders of the movement were quoted stating that the PPP was not serious about implementing the agenda of the movement and accused it of having some form of “understanding”with the ruling establishment.

There is a good case to believe that from the PPP’s standpoint, the recent Senate elections – notably the victory of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in a crucial contest for the senate seat representing Islamabad – have caused a major dent in the ruling alliance. Further, the PPP currently heads the government in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh. It therefore seems to follow that the PPP leadership would rather give tough time to the government while staying in the assemblies, instead of leaving the field open for the government. [Dawn]

 

23 March 2021

Pakistan: Government zeroes in on Election Commission

(lm) Leaders of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party on March 15 called on the country’s Chief Election Commissioner to resign and demanded that the current the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) be reconstituted, claiming the Commission had failed to hold the recently concluded Senate elections in a transparent manner. [Geo TV] [Khaleej Times 1]

Prime Minister Imran Khan survived a vote of confidence in the lower house of Parliament on March 6 after his ruling PTI party had failed to secure a majority in the Senate elections held three days earlier. Two days prior to the Senate elections, the Supreme Court had ruled on March 1 that the elections should be held via secret ballot, but their secrecy is not absolute and that the ECP should employ the latest technology to ensure ‘that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law and that corrupt practices are guarded against.’ Citing lack of time, the ECP the following day stated that this year’s elections would be conducted as per past practice. [AiR No. 10, March/2021, 2]

There is a good case to believe that the PTI is seeking to undermine the ECP’s authority and public image, for the ECP has issued notices to the PTI and its own scrutiny committee to appear before it on March 22 to explain their stance over secrecy of scrutiny in a case pertaining to allegations it had fraudulently financed its election campaign. [Khaleej Times 2]

In 2014, a founding member of the PTI had filed a petition with the ECP, alleging the party had illicitly received funds from foreigners. Arguing that the commission does not have the authority to examine the accounts of any political party, the PTI has since approached the Islamabad High Court six times to stay the hearing of the petition. Further, the PTI filed similar petitions against the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with the ECP. In January, the PTI admitted raising campaign funds through foreign accounts, but blamed illegalities on its agents in the United States without specifying who they were [see AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4].

16 March 2021

Pakistan assures Uzbekistan of access to its ports

(lm) Pakistan has assured Uzbekistan of providing access to its two ports – Karachi and Gwadar – in a bid to enhance regional connectivity and trade. An announcement in this regard was made by Prime Minister Imran Khan on March 10, the second and final day of a two-day visit of Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Kamilov to Islamabad. [Dawn]

The move would provide Uzbekistan, which currently relies on Iran’s Bandar Abbas port, with a cheap transit alternative. Islamabad, in turn, aims to expand its footprint in Central Asia by gaining access to the economies of neighboring countries and redirecting their trade through Pakistani ports. Turkmenistan, another landlocked but resource-rich region in Central Asia had also expressed its keen interest in connecting with Pakistan’s warm water ports – most notably the China-operated Gwadar port. [AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2]

In December last year, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan agreed on a roadmap for the construction of a $4.8 billion trilateral railway project connecting Mazar-e-Sharif, Pehswar and Kabul. Because the security situation in Afghanistan is of central concern in the region, Uzbekistan has been engaging with the Taliban’s political leadership for some years, in what is being seen as seeking assurance for the safety of their investment. At the same time, Uzbekistan is also planning an alternative route, which connects the country with Pakistan via the Karakorum Pass, bypassing Afghanistan.

Notably, the announcement comes shortly after Uzbekistan, alongside other countries, had joined India on March 4 in commemorating ‘Chabahar Day’. Chabahar Port is being jointly developed by India, Iran and Afghanistan to boost trade ties among the three countries. Located on Iran’s energy-rich southern coast, it is the only Iranian port with direct access to the Indian Ocean, and thus can be easily accessed from India’s western coast, bypassing Pakistan. [AiR No. 10, March/2021, 2]

16 March 2021

SIPRI international arms transfers report 2020

(dql) According to the 2020 international arms transfers report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), released last week, the US remains the world’s largest arms supplier in 2016-2020 accounting for 37% of the global arms exports, followed by Russia (20%), France (8.2), Germany (5.5%) and China (5.2%). Together, these five countries accounted for 76% of all exports of major arms. Besides China, Asian countries listed among the top 25 countries which accounted for 99% of global arms exports include South Korea (2.7%, ranking at 7), the United Arab Emirates (0.5%, 18), and India (0.2%, 24)

Against the backdrop of the US-China rivalry, the US allies Australia (accounting for 9.4% of US arms exports), South Korea (6.7%) and Japan (5.7%) were among the five largest importers of US arms.

23 Asian countries were among the 40 largest importers including Saudi-Arabia, India, China, South Korea, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Iraq, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Thailand, Oman, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Jordan, the Philippines, Azerbaijan, Myanmar, Taiwan, and Malaysia. [Reliefweb]

 

16 March 2021

Pakistan: Gilgit Baltistan Assembly adopts resolution demanding provincial status from federal government

(lm) The Legislative Assembly of Pakistan’s de facto province Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) on March 9 unanimously adopted a joint resolution asking the federal government to grant the territory interim provincial status and provide it with representation in Parliament and other constitutional bodies. The resolution was moved by GB’s Chief Minister, a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of Prime Minister Imran Khan. [Kashmir Images]

Last November, the PTI party and its ally Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen Pakistan (MWM) had emerged as the largest political alliance in the provincial assembly elections, despite failing to achieve a clear majority [see AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]. Shortly thereafter, Prime Minister Khan constituted a 12-member committee to make recommendations about changing the status of GB [see AiR No. 49, December/2020, 2].

To date, the federal government has fallen short of declaring the strategic region as its fifth province, ostensibly to protect its claim on the entirety of Kashmir in the event of a resolution of the Kashmir dispute with India. As a consequence, the region has been caught in constitutional limbo and denied representation in Pakistan’s national legislature [see AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1].

9 March 2021

Bangladesh: Anniversary of Sheikh Mujib Rahman’s historic March 7 speech observed

(lm) Bangladesh has observed the 50th anniversary of the historic speech given by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding president of Bangladesh and father of incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, on March 7, 1971. Delivered during a period of escalating tensions between East Pakistan and the powerful political and military establishment of West Pakistan, the speech effectively declared the independence of Bangladesh. [bdnews24.com]

At that time, Pakistani military rulers refused to transfer power to Rahman’s Awami League, the largest East Pakistani political party which had gained majority in the National Assembly of Pakistan in 1970. The Bangladesh Liberation War began 18 days later when the Pakistan Army launched a military operation aimed at eliminating the Awami League apparatus, alongside Bengali civilians, intelligentsia, students, politicians, and armed personnel.

9 March 2021

Three “commanders” of Pakistan Taliban killed in northwestern tribal region

(lm) Pakistan’s military announced on March 8 it had killed four members of the country’s leading Taliban group, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in two separate security operations in Waziristan, including three senior members. [Anadolu Agency]

The intelligence-based operations came after the TTP had recently conducted a number of high-profile terrorist attacks [see e.g. AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4], indicating a resurgence of its activities. The visible uptick in attacks over the past year in the former semi-autonomous tribal region bordering Afghanistan is believed to be the result of the TTP’s reunification with three formerly estranged factions in August last year [see No. 37, September/2020, 3]. [The Diplomat]

9 March 2021

Pakistani military kills 5 militants in response to recent attacks in Balochistan

(lm) Pakistan’s security forces on March 8 killed five members of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), an outlawed militant organization that wages a violent armed struggle for separation of Balochistan from Pakistan. [The Tribune]

Before the intelligence-based operation, terrorists belonging to the BLA had carried out at least two attacks in the province. Five construction workers were killed and five more injured when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb on March 5. The following day, four members of the Pakistan Navy were killed and another two seriously injured during an ambush near the port city of Gwadar. [South Asia Monitor 1] [South Asia Monitor 2]

9 March 2021

China, Pakistan reiterate commitment to China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor

(lm) Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi emphasized on March 2 Beijing and Islamabad should continue to support their China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC) and expand their strategic partnership. Wang made the remarks during a video call with his Pakistani counterpart, Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, which was made to mark the 70th anniversary of the countries establishing diplomatic relations. [South China Morning Post]

Launched in 2013, the CPEC is part of Beijing’s international infrastructure strategy known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Though often valued at $62 billion, only about $25 billion worth of CPEC projects have so far been developed, giving rise to concerns that the alliance has been exacting on Pakistan’s resources, people and international reputation. [Politico]

To keep the narrative of continued progress alive, Pakistan’s Cabinet Committee on CPEC recently directed the relevant ministries to improve the pace of work on CPEC projects [see AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2]. Beijing, in turn, the same month proposed a joint parliamentary oversight committee to strengthen its hold over the speed and quality over the implementation of projects under the CPEC [see AiR No. 5, February/2021, 1].

9 March 2021

Pakistan: Legislation needed to meet three outstanding FATF benchmarks

(lm) Pakistan will have to make further legislation on at least two counts to complete its action plan with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) before June 2021, members of the country’s National Executive Committee (NEC) on Anti-Money Laundering noticed on March 2. [Dawn]

Presiding over the meeting, Minister of Finance and Revenue Abdul Hafeez Shaikh also said Islamabad is expected to submit an updated report within 30 days to the FATF on the progress on the legislation and other steps to be taken to address the outstanding concerns.

Two weeks ago, the FATF – an inter-governmental organization that monitors global money laundering and terrorist financing – gave Pakistan time until June to implement the remaining three action items assigned to it to be removed from the watchdog’s list of Jurisdictions under Increased Monitoring – often externally referred to as the ‘grey list’[see AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1]. All these deficiencies are related to terror financing, according to the FATF. [FATF]

9 March 2021

Pakistan: Prime Minister Khan wins vote of confidence amid opposition protest, boycott

(lm) Prime Minister Imran Khan survived a vote of confidence in the lower house of Parliament on March 6 after his ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party failed to secure a majority in the Senate elections held three days earlier. The session was marked by an opposition boycott of the vote and clashes between government supporters and opposition leaders outside the Parliament building. [Dawn] [South China Morning Post] [The Straits Times 1]

The prime minister volunteered to seek the National Assembly’s confidence after former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani defeated on March 3 incumbent Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh in a crucial contest for the senate seat representing Islamabad. After the vote, opposition parties — mainly former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (N) and former president Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) — now enjoy the support of 53 members of the 100-member Senate. [Deutsche Welle] [The Times of India]

Shaikh, who is a key member in-charge of the government’s economic policies and reforms plan under the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s $6 billion loan program [see AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4], had to win a Parliament seat to continue as the finance minister after June 11. [The Straits Times 2]

Not having a majority in Senate, the prime minister will find it almost impossible to pass legislation in Parliament, and will have to rely on President Arif Alvi, a party loyalist, to pass presidential ordinances to keep the government functioning. Yet, major constitutional changes will remain beyond Prime Minister Khan’s reach, even though legal reforms are sought by global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) [see article below]. [Arab News] [Nikkei Asia]

This year’s elections were being conducted amidst an anti-government drive by an 11-party coalition of opposition parties, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). The PDM leaders had earlier threatened to resign en masse from the provincial and national assemblies, and refused to take part in the Senate elections, but later backtracked after the PPP decided to contest the polls [see AiR No. 50, December/2020, 3].

In the lead up to the elections much of the debate surrounded the secrecy of ballot that is observed in the Senate elections, which has always led to allegations of vote buying. The government moved a conditional presidential ordinance and later invoked advisory jurisdiction of the Supreme Court (SC) to conduct the elections via open ballot [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]. The SC ruled on March 1 that the elections should be held via secret ballot, but their secrecy is not absolute and that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) should employ the latest technology to ensure “that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law and that corrupt practices are guarded against.” Citing lack of time, the ECP the following day stated that this year’s elections would be conducted as per past practice. [Dawn] [The Hindu]

2 March 2021

Tensions simmer at volatile Iran-Pakistan border

(lm) Repeated flare-ups along the border which demarcates Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan Province from Pakistan’s Balochistan province in recent weeks have exacerbated tensions between the two countries, threatening to further destabilase an already volatile region. Tehran is currently investigating a shooting at the border that left at least two dead and six wounded. [Al Jazeera]

According to local rights activists, members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps blocked the road that residents use to transport fuel to Pakistan, and opened fire at those attempting to open the road. The incident, which occurred on February 22, led to protests that spread from the city of Saravan to other areas in Sistan and Baluchestan Province, including the capital, Zahedan. The deputy governor of the Sistan and Baluchestan province also accused Pakistani forces of opening fire at a gathering of fuel smugglers trying to cross back into Iran, killing one and wounding four. [Deutsche Welle, in German] [Human Rights Watch]

The border is frequently used by minority Shia Muslims who travel from Pakistan to Iran for religious pilgrimages. But the border has also long been the entry point for the ethnic Baluch population engaged in unlawful cross-border commerce that authorities have struggled to crack down on for decades. Moreover, Tehran has long been accusing Islamabad of not acting against militant groups and Baloch separatists, notably Jaish-al-Adl, a Salafi jihadist militant organization that operates mainly in southeastern Iran – a claim that Pakistan denies. [Arab News]

Pakistan has set aside nearly $20 million to fence its 900-kilometer border with Iran; at present, 40 percent of the construction work have been completed, according to Home Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, who visited the border region earlier this month. [Anadolu Agency]

2 March 2021

Pakistan expresses solidarity with Saudi Arabia in Jamal Khashoggi murder case

(lm) The United States on February 26 released a long-awaited declassified intelligence report on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based journalist and critic of Saudi Arabia’s government, who was assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 by agents of the Saudi government. The report concluded that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, the son of King Salman and Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, approved the planned assassination. [CNN]

The following day, Pakistan’s foreign ministry released a press statement, expressing its solidarity with Riyadh, saying that Islamabad would recognize the Kingdom’s efforts to bring Khashoggi’s murders to justice. Pakistan’s Special Representative on the Religious Harmony and the Middle East even denied the findings of the report, calling them ‘baseless.’ [Arab News] [Dawn]

While Saudi Arabia is beginning to feel the heat of the new Biden-Harris Administration, changes in US foreign policy also create an opportunity for Pakistan to get its relationship with the Kingdom back on track. In fact, Saudi Arabia recently extended cash support worth $2 billion to Islamabad, lending further credence to the argument that both sides are keen to put the brakes on further deterioration their bilateral relations [see AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2].

2 March 2021

Pakistan again gets extension to make case for exiting FATF list

(lm) The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has given Pakistan time until June to show the country had done enough to be removed from the watchdog’s list of Jurisdictions under Increased Monitoring – often externally referred to as the ‘grey list’. [Bloomberg]

The decision was made on February 25, the third and final day of the inter-governmental organization’s virtual meeting [see AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4]. During the session, the FATF had reviewed Pakistan’s measures against money laundering and terror financing and found that Islamabad had addressed 24 of the 27 action items assigned to it. All of these deficiencies are related to terror financing, according to the FATF.

This is the second extension after Pakistan failed to meet four previous deadlines. Four months ago, Islamabad was asked to see through the internationally agreed action plan by February and to demonstrate that terrorism financing probes resulted in effective sanctions. [AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4].

Since it was first placed on the list in June 2018, Islamabad has been facing possible blacklisting, which could lead to economic sanctions from institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Still, an entry in the list for the third time since 2008 is expected to take a toll on trade and investment: Islamabad-based research advisory Tabadlab estimates that Pakistan would sustain about $38 billion in economic losses due to FATF’s decision to keep the country on its grey list. [Hindustan Times]

2 March 2021

India, Pakistan agree to observe ceasefire agreements along Line of Control

(lm) India and Pakistan in a rare joint statement announced on February 25 both sides had agreed to observe a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) – the de facto border that divides the disputed Kashmir valley between the two countries – and all other sectors. However, New Delhi emphasized that its military would maintain deployments along the LoC to prevent infiltration and continue counterinsurgency operations in the Kashmir Valley. [Indian Ministry of Defense] [ACB News] [The Hindu]

India and Pakistan signed a Ceasefire Understanding in 2003, but the truce has been frayed, with frequent clashes and cross-border shelling in recent months reportedly killing multiple civilians [see e.g. AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]. The return to a truce was settled during a phone conversation between the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGsMO) on February 22. Attentive observers of both countries believe the joint statement to be the result of months-long backchannel talks between India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and his Pakistani counterpart Moeed Yusuf. [The Federal] [Hindustan Times]

Coming like a bolt from the blue, the agreement triggered speculations about the causes that lie behind it.

Coming only weeks after China and India have agreed to withdraw frontline troops along Pangong Tso [see AiR No. 7, February/2021, 3], some analysts say the moves may have been choreographed with Beijing. To be sure, there is a good case to believe that India’s decision in 2019 to unilaterally abrogate Article 370 of the constitution, thereby breaking the state of Kashmir into two union territories [see AiR No. 32, August/2019, 1], was at least in part motivated by concerns over a possible two-front conflict due to increased cooperation between the Islamabad and Beijing [see e.g. AiR No. 3, January/2021, 3]. [South China Morning Post]

In fact, while the international narrative has largely been limited to the bilateral dispute between Pakistan and India, China – through its claims on Aksai Chin and the Shaksgam Valley – remains an interested party in the territorial issue of Jammu and Kashmir. [The EurAsian Times]

At any rate, from India’s perspective, curbing cross-border infiltration and support to militancy from across Pakistan frees up more policy space to focus on the China issue. A case in point, security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir are have raised red flags over the recent arrival of ‘sticky bombs’ – small, magnetic bombs which can be attached to vehicles and detonated remotely – including 15 seized in a February raid. Indian officials say none of the devices seized in the disputed territory was produced there, suggesting they were being smuggled from Pakistan. [Reuters] [The Citizen]

Nevertheless, some Indian observers question the sincerity of the agreement, pointing out that Pakistan’s Kashmir policy has always been in flux between bilateral talks on the one hand and a militaristic approach on the other. Hence, they suggest that the ceasefire agreement may be best understood a tactical move by India. That is, New Delhi, for its part, may use the agreement to keep its toolkit ready at a time when the new US Biden-Harris administration has committed itself to pursuing a foreign policy centered on democracy, human rights, and equality. [Observer Research Foundation]

 

23 February 2021

India takes delegation of international diplomats to tour Jammu and Kashmir region

(lm) India on February 17 and 18 hosted a delegation of 24 international diplomats in its Jammu and Kashmir union territory to showcase efforts to restore normalcy more than a year after it stripped the region’s special status. During their visit, the foreign envoys were allowed to speak with local residents to discuss their responses to recent local elections and economic opportunities [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]. The trip also included meetings with officials from Indian Army and government, as well as journalists and civil society groups selected by the security services. [U.S. News] [The Straits Times]

This was the third group of dignitaries to visit the Indian-administered region since August 2019, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government unilaterally abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution, breaking the state of Kashmir into two union territories – one comprising the Hindu-dominated Jammu region and the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, known as Jammu and Kashmir, and the second being the Buddhist enclave of Ladakh [see AiR No. 32, August/2019, 1].

The president of the Pakistan-administered state of Azad Kashmir termed the tour an attempt by New Delhi to “project a false image of normalcy” in the disputed territory. [Anadolu Agency]

23 February 2021

Pakistani female aid workers killed by assailants

(lm) Gunmen on motorcycles killed at least four aid workers in an ambush in the northwestern district of North Waziristan on February 22, an attack which observers say could portend a resurgence of militant violence in the area, a former stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban. [New York Times] [The Guardian]

Moreover, at least five Pakistani soldiers were killed and two more injured when suspected terrorists carried out attacks in two separate areas in the country’s restive Balochistan province. Both attacks targeted members of the Frontier Corps, one of two paramilitary units involved in combating various militant groups across the province. [Dawn] [Kashmir Observer]

While no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, there is a good case to believe that they were masterminded by the Baluch Raji Ajohi Sangar (Alliance for Baluch National Freedom, BRAS), the first alliance ever formed by Baluch terrorist organizations. The terrorist alliance’s ideology revolves around establishing a separate Baluch state and not allowing outside powers (including both China and Pakistan) to extract resources from Baluchistan’s territory. [The Jamestown Foundation]

In January, at least four soldiers belonging to the Frontier Corps were killed and five more injured when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated near their vehicle in the province of Balochistan [see AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4]. The incident came just a week after the provincial government had launched a large-scale offensive following the killing of 11 coalminers belonging to the Shi’ite Hazara community [see AiR No. 3, January/2021, 3AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1].

23 February 2021

Pakistan, Egypt to boost security, economic cooperation

(lm) Pakistan and Egypt have agreed to boost bilateral cooperation, particularly in the fields of economics. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi visited Cairo from February 16 to 18, and met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi in Cairo, expressing Islamabad’s desire to further strengthen and diversify bilateral ties. The president, in turn, accepted the invitation to visit Pakistan at the earliest opportunity. [Gulf News]

Qureshi’s visit followed an invitation from his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukri, and came after meetings between President Al-Sisi and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan. The two leaders met on the sidelines of the summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Mecca in 2019 and at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in New York the same year. In the most recent call between Shoukri and Qureshi in December the two ministers expressed a desire for continuous coordination.

For a start, Egypt is in a position to open doors for Pakistan in Africa. In 2019, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi assumed the one-year rotating chair of the African Union. Keen on making a difference, during that year the president noticeably improved Egypt’s relations with other African countries. In light of the ongoing rivalry between India and Pakistan, there is a good case to believe that Islamabad will seek to open up its relations across the African continent, not least in response to the India–Africa Forum Summit (IAFS), the official platform for the African-Indian relations held once in every three years. [Ahram]

Importantly, Qureshi also met with Ahmed Aboul Gheit, incumbent Secretary-General of the Arab League, at the organization’s headquarters in Cairo. There is a good case to believe that the meeting was a continuation of Islamabad’s wider efforts to further mend ties with the Arab world that frayed last year when Qureshi had expressed frustration over the inaction of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and Saudi Arabia with regard to the Kashmir issue [see AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]. [Nikkei Asia]

23 February 2021

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan visits Sri Lanka as Colombo balances ties with India

(lm) Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan concluded a working visit to Sri Lanka on February 23, after holding separate meetings with Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and attending an investors’ conference. [Hindustan Times]

Close partners in trade and defense, both sides developed strong bilateral ties during the Sri Lankan Civil War, when Islamabad supplied high-tech military equipment to Colombo’s military. Shortly before Prime Minister Khan’s arrival, however, Sri Lanka cancelled a scheduled speech of the Pakistani prime minister in Parliament, apparently over fears it could further harm ties with India. [The EurAsian Times]

Observers suggest that Prime Minister Khan may have suggested that Sri Lankan officials accept Pakistani support in the upcoming 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC), which will feature a resolution on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka [see AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2]. Further, in return for giving its explicit support Islamabad might ask Colombo to adopt Pakistan’s position on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. [Foreign Brief]

However, the two parties are unlikely to agree on such arrangements, considering that these would only heighten tensions between Sri Lanka and India. Colombo currently finds itself in a tight spot since it earlier this month pulled out of a three-party agreement with India and Japan for operating the strategic Colombo Port’s Eastern Container Terminal (ECT) [see AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2]. Prior to the decision, India had shipped free consignments of Covishield (the local name for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine developed in the United Kingdom) to Sri Lanka.

Moreover, the island nation is witnessing a rising islamophobia. Until recently [see AiR No. 7, February/2021, 3], the government had made cremations of COVID-19 victims mandatory, arguing that burials in accordance with Islamic tradition would pose a public health risk. Human and religious rights groups, as well as local Muslim associations had resented the policy, saying authorities used it to purposely hurt the country’s religious minorities. 

23 February 2021

Pakistan softens terms to get Chinese loans for crucial rail project

(lm) In the dispute over the parameters of a Chinese loan to upgrade Pakistan’s railway lines, Islamabad has softened its position on both interest rate and loan currency. In a revised loam term sheet Pakistan shared with Beijing earlier this month, Islamabad agreed to borrow $6 billion in both Chinese and US currencies. [The Express Tribune]

Last August, Pakistan`s top economic body had approved Mainline-1 (ML-1), a $6.8 billion project to upgrade railway infrastructure in the Peshawar – Lahore – Karachi corridor[see AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]. Work on the first phase of the project was scheduled to commence in January and be completed in 2024. However, as of yet, no contractors have been selected for the project. Eager to finalize the deal, Islamabad is reportedly planning to table the issue during the next meeting of CPEC’s principal decision-making body, the Joint Cooperation Committee. However, China continues to be reluctant to schedule the meeting, causing some observers to believe that the agreement was derailing [see AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2].

Due to the strategic importance of the project, Islamabad had initially been hoping that Beijing would provide up to 90 percent of the financing and would further agree to a 1 percent interest for the loan. In November, then, Islamabad requested an initial $2.7 billion loan from Beijing for the construction of package-I of the project [see AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]. Citing Pakistan’s weakened financial position, however China in December offered to finance only 85 percent of the costs, and rejected the proposed interest rate. As to the payback period, Beijing suggested 15 to 20 years in biannual tranches, including a five-year grace period. Pakistan, however, has asked for a 20-year repayment period, including a 10-year grace period. [AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5].

 

23 February 2021

International Monetary Fund to resume stalled $6 billion loan program to Pakistan

(lm) The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Pakistan on February 16 reached a staff-level agreement that Islamabad had completed reforms required for the release of around $500 million in funds. The funds are part of the IMF’s bailout program, the Extended Fund Facility (EFF), which should eventually bring Pakistan $6 billion. In exchange, Islamabad agreed on measures – e.g. rationalize expenditure, increase electricity prices, increase its tax revenue, among others – which are required to complete further reviews of the reform program. [International Monetary Fund] [Reuters]

Pakistan entered the EFF in 2019, but the program was had been suspended last April after Islamabad had failed to meet all requirements [see AiR No. 14, April/2020, 1]. Later the same month, the IMF approved an additional $1.4 billion loan for Pakistan to meet the balance of payment needs following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. [Dawn]

Resumption of the stalled bailout package has raised expectations that the South Asian nation will return to global bond markets, at a time when the government is sailing through choppy waters. [Financial Times]

23 February 2021

FATF meets to assess Pakistan’s actions on countering terror financing

(lm) The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental organization that monitors global money laundering and terrorist financing, on February 22 started its three-day virtual meeting. During the meeting, the FATF’s Plenary will review Pakistan’s measures against money laundering and terror financing to decide whether to keep the country on its list of Jurisdictions under Increased Monitoring – often externally referred to as the ‘grey list’. [Dawn] [FATF]

Since it was first placed on the list in June 2018, Islamabad has been facing possible blacklisting, which could lead to economic sanctions from institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. During the FATF’s last review last October, Pakistan was urged to complete the remaining six of the 27 parameters included in the internationally agreed action plan by February 2021 and to demonstrate that terrorism financing probes resulted in effective sanctions. [AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4].

In the run-up to the meeting, Pakistan has reached out to the FATF’s member states hoping to garner their support for exiting the rating list of countries tagged as prone to illicit financial activity. The challenge in this regard comes from India, which had mounted a determined effort to hold Pakistan responsible for its role in supporting terrorism and terrorist infrastructure ahead of the previous session [see AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4]. According to a report published on February 21, however, Pakistan’s efforts are met with additional resistance from some European countries – especially France and the United States – which hold that Islamabad has failed to fully implement the remaining six parameters.

In this context, two recent events assume added significance, as they may be shaping Paris’ and Washington’s opinion on Pakistan. To begin with, Pakistan’s Supreme Court (SC) ordered the release from prison of a British-born Islamist who had been convicted in 2002 on charges of kidnapping and murder of an American journalist earlier this month. [AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2]

Moreover, Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi recently urged Paris “not to entrench the discriminatory attitudes against Muslims into laws”, warning that such steps would lead to serious repercussions in the shape of hatred and conflict. The president’s statement came after lawmakers in the French parliament’s lower house on February 16 overwhelmingly approved a bill that would strengthen oversight of mosques, schools and sport clubs to safeguard France from radical Islamists and to promote respect for French values. [Anadolu Agency] [New York Times]

The relations between France and Pakistan had deteriorated last year after Pakistani leadership attacked the French government and President Emmanuel Macron for not condemning caricatures showing the Prophet Muhammed [see AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1].

 

23 February 2021

Bangladesh: Lawyer files sedition case over Al Jazeera investigative report

(lm) A government-linked Bangladeshi lawyer filed a sedition case on February 17 over an Al Jazeera investigative report that had revealed disturbing facts about the family of Bangladesh’s Chief of Army Staff (CAS), General Aziz Ahmed [see AiR No. 7, February/2021, 3]. [Al Jazeera]

The lawyer behind the case is the founder and president of the Bangabandhu Foundation, a government-owned and supported welfare foundation for athletes in Bangladesh. The accused in the lawsuit are Al Jazeera Media Network’s acting Director General and several other people featured in the documentary.

Furthermore, the country’s High Court later the same day ordered the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) to remove all content of the report from social media and other online platforms. The BTRC had earlier approached YouTube to remove the investigation from the video platform – a request that was rejected as the content did not violate the company’s community guidelines. In addition, Bangladesh’s telco regulator had also called on US social media giants Facebook and Twitter to pull down the documentary. [The Straits Times]

Meanwhile, Bangladesh’s foreign ministry has slammed the documentary as a “smear campaign” by Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest political party, which since 2013 is banned from contesting national elections. Its predecessor, Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, strongly opposed the independence of Bangladesh and break-up of Pakistan. During the War of Liberation that transformed East Pakistan into Bangladesh in 1971, the group collaborated with the Pakistan Army in its operations against Bengali nationalists and pro-liberation intellectuals. Under Hasina’s government, which has been in power since 2009, five of Jamaat’s senior leaders have been executed over war crimes committed during the war [also see AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1].

 

16 February 2021

Pakistan successfully conducts training launch of cruise missile

(lm) Pakistan’s army on February 11 successfully flight-tested Babur IA, a short-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile that can range up to 450 kilometers. Pakistan first tested the Babur missile in August 2005. [The Express Tribune ]

This is the third missile launch by carried out the armed forces in less than a month, with launches of the Shaheen-III and Ghaznavi ballistic missiles being conducted in late January and early February, respectively. Earlier in January this year, the army had also test-fired an indigenously developed extended-range guided Multi-Launch Rocket System (MLRS). [AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2]

16 February 2021

Pakistan, Turkey launch joint military exercise ATATURK-XI

(lm) A three-week-long joint military exercise involving Turkish Special Forces and troops of Pakistani military’s elite Special Services Group commenced on February 9. The opening ceremony of the exercise ATATURK-XI 2021 was held at the headquarters of the Special Services Group in Khyber Pakhtunkwa province. [Anadolu Agency] [The Express Tribune

Ankara and Islamabad historically have enjoyed close military and defense cooperation but recent regional developments brought the two countries even closer. In 2018, the Pakistan Navy inter alia signed a contract for the acquisition of four Turkish-built MILGEM corvettes with Turkey’s state-run defense firm and shipyard corporation, ASFAT. Under the agreement, two corvettes will be constructed in Turkey and two in Pakistan. [AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4]

In January this year, then, Turkey started the construction of the third MILGEM corvette in Istanbul. During the steel cutting ceremony, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Pakistan was a “brotherly country with whom Turkey enjoyed excellent relations”. Earlier that month, Turkey, Pakistan, and Azerbaijan also issued the “Islamabad Declaration”, a joint strategy in which they agreed support each other on various international forums on matters pertaining to territorial conflicts [see AiR No. 3, January/2021, 3].

 

16 February 2021

Eight killed in Pakistan shootout with militants

(lm) A group of militants attacked a security post in the former tribal region of South Waziristan, triggering a shootout that killed four troops and four insurgents. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but the mountainous region served as a headquarters for local and foreign militants until 2017, when the army said it had cleared the region of insurgents following several operations [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]. The region still sees sporadic attacks, mainly targeting security forces. [The Economic Times]

16 February 2021

Parliamentary panel relaunches inquiry into effectiveness of Pakistan aid program

(lm) The British International Development Committee (IDC), a select committee of the lower house of Parliament of the United Kingdom, has relaunched an inquiry into the effectiveness of London’s aid project for Pakistan. A previous inquiry launched in June 2019 had ended inconclusive, due to the dissolution of Parliament in November the same year. [Dawn]

Pakistan has been the largest country program under Department for International Development (DFID) for the past five years, receiving more than $400 million in the fiscal year 2019-20, spanning across areas including human development, climate and the environment, and humanitarian aid. [DFID]

 

16 February 2021

Chinese company threatens international arbitration over delayed CPEC project

(lm) Against the larger backdrop of the slow progress being made on implementing projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) [see AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2], a Chinese company has threatened to take a Pakistani state-owned company to court for creating hurdles in the commissioning of an energy project.

The Chinese company in December last year completed construction work on the Matiari–Lahore transmission line, a $2.1 billion transmission line that is supposed to transmit electricity to northern Pakistan. Delivered under the build–own–operate–transfer (BOOT) method, the Chinese company will hand over the infrastructure to Pakistan 25 years after commissioning. However, Pakistan’s National Transmission & Despatch Company (NTDC) refused to approve the documents required the commissioning after it had experienced oscillation during trials. [The News International]

16 February 2021

Pakistan: Government employees clash with police in Islamabad

(lm) The Pakistani government approved a raise in salaries of federal employees on February 11, a day after the capital, Islamabad, saw demonstrations turn violent as protesters clashed with police throughout the day and officers resorted to heavy tear gas shelling to disperse the crowd. At least one police officer lost his life and dozens of employees were arrested when the crowd attempted to enter the capital city’s highly restricted ‘red zone’, which houses parliament, the prime minister’s office, and most foreign embassies. [Geo News] [Dawn]

The federal employees are demanding a 40 percent pay raise, which they said the government has been delaying for long. After successful negotiations with representatives of employees, the government announced a 25 percent increase in the salaries of federal employees from grade 1 to 19 which has been approved on an “ad-hoc basis”. Further, the government decided to release all the arrested protestors and apologized to the employees for the use of force by capital police, saying that “it should not have happened”. [Gulf News]

16 February 2021

Pakistan: Supreme Court judgement bans executions of prisoners with mental disabilities

(lm) In a landmark ruling, Pakistan’s Supreme Court (SC) commuted on February 10 the death sentences of two mentally ill prisoners, who have spent decades on death row, and sent them to health facilities. The court also directed the prison officials to file a fresh mercy petition for a third prisoner. The ruling reverses a 2016 decision in which the court had observed that schizophrenia was “not a permanent mental disorder.” [Deutsche Welle] [Amnesty International]

Pakistan in 2008 ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) under which the government is obligated to ensure effective access to justice for people with psychosocial disabilities. This includes providing adequate health care, support, and procedural adjustments to enable people with disabilities to participate in the judicial process. [United Nations]

Last year, following a the steep rise in COVID-19 cases in Pakistan’s crowded jails, the SC agreed to release some mentally ill and disabled prisoners to ease conditions, but only those whose sentences were less than three years.

 

9 February 2021

Pakistan successfully conducts training launch of short-range ballistic missile

(lm) Pakistan successfully conducted on February 3 a flight test of its ballistic missile Ghaznavi, which could carry both nuclear and conventional warheads to a range of 290 kilometers. Earlier this month Islamabad carried out a flight-test of its Shaheen-III ballistic missile in the Northern Arabian Sea [see AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4]. [Dawn]

9 February 2021

Pakistan: Police foils terrorist attack in Karachi

(lm) The Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) of Pakistan’s Sindh province has killed one and arrested five suspected militants, foiling a potential terrorist attack in Karachi involving guns and explosives. During the intelligence-based operation, weapons, bomb-making materials, and suicide jackets were recovered. [Dawn] [Gulf News]

Earlier Pakistan had arrested a “most wanted” militant linked to the Followers of Zainab Brigade, a pro-government brigade fighting in Syria composed of members of the Pakistani Shiite community. According to investigators, the arrested terrorist had received military training in neighboring Iran, and was named in the Red Book, a publication prepared by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) that lists human traffickers and high-profile terrorists. [Arab News]

 

9 February 2021

Pakistan, United Kingdom inch closer towards inking extradition treaty

(lm) Pakistan and the United Kingdom have advanced towards signing an extradition treaty, after Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed assured on February 2 the British High Commissioner that Islamabad did not intend to use the treaty for politically motivated extradition. [Dawn]

At present, no formal extradition treaty exists between Pakistan and the UK, although Section 194 of the UK Extradition Act 2003 contains provisions for special “ad hoc” extradition arrangements. Islamabad has been seeking to sign an extradition treaty with London for a long time, but the British government had routinely expressed its reluctance to ink any such accord on the grounds that it does not sign extradition treaties with the countries subjected frequently to military rule.

Islamabad’s renewed efforts are taking place against the larger backdrop of its failure to convince London to repatriate former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has been residing in the UK since 2019, after a court granted him indefinite bail to seek medical treatment [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]. The former prime minister is facing several corruption charges in Pakistan and is considered by the courts to have absconded. He is also facing sedition charges for accusing the military of political interference [see AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3].

9 February 2021

Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates retain $2 billion financial lifeline for Pakistan

(lm) While holding a telephone conversation, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, agreed to strengthen bilateral ties between Islamabad and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The talk came after Saudi Arabia and the UAE earlier last week had extended cash support worth $2 billion, indicating a thaw in relations between Islamabad and the two Gulf nations. [The Express Tribune] [Dawn]

Last year, Saudi Arabia initially decided to withdraw its cash-support to Pakistan, withdrawing 2$ billion in loan and cancelling investment commitments of another $20 billion in Pakistan. At the time, China had come forward and extended $1 billion in loan to help Islamabad avoid any adverse impact of the partial withdrawal of the Saudi lifeline [see AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]. Riyadh also asked its ally UAE to choke Islamabad economically by suspending work visas to its citizens [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4].In the face of dwindling foreign exchange reserves and a struggling economy, Islamabad last April [see AiR No. 16, April/2020, 3] then had entered into negotiations with 21 creditor countries for debt suspension under the G-20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) amounting to $1.7 billion. After Pakistan successfully concluded rescheduling agreements with 19 bilateral creditors, including members of the so-called Paris Club group of major creditor countries, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were the only two countries that were yet to ratify debt suspension agreements [see AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2].

9 February 2021

Pakistan’s machinery of bureaucracy slows down implementation of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

(lm) Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has expressed concerns over the slow progress being made on implementing projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), cautioning that the delay should not affect the strategic nature of the bilateral relationship between Islamabad and Beijing. Previously, a meeting of the cabinet body responsible for overseeing the implementation of CPEC projects, ended prematurely, because some ministries had failed to remove administrative obstacles for execution of the projects. [The Express Tribune] [Profit By Pakistan Today]

Lending further credence to the gravity of the situation, China continues to be reluctant to schedule the next meeting of CPEC’s principal decision-making body, the Joint Cooperation Committee. While both sides are certainly willing to keep the narrative of continued progress alive, Beijing and Islamabad are embroiled in their most serious disagreement so far, causing some observers to believe that the agreement was derailing.

A case in point is the debate about the construction of the Mainline-1 (ML-1) project, the single-largest project to date under CPEC which involves upgrading and track-doubling railway lines in the Peshawar – Lahore – Karachi corridor [see AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]. In light of the strategic importance of the project, Islamabad expected Beijing to provide up to 90 percent of the financing, further assuming that China was ready to accept a 20-years repayment period. However, citing Pakistan’s weakening financial position, China sought additional guarantees before sanctioning a $6 billion loan for the construction of the ML-1 project, and proposed a mix of commercial and concessional loan, notwithstanding Islamabad’s desire to secure the cheapest lending [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5].

 

9 February 2021

Pakistan: Supreme Court scrutinizes approval of development funds for lawmakers

(lm) Pakistan’s Supreme Court (SC) has sought explanation from the federal government over Prime Minister Imran Khan’s decision of approving a $3.1 million development grant for each lawmaker of both national and provincial assemblies. During the hearing on February 3, the bench reproduced a 2013 precedent, which declared that the Constitution does not permit the use or allocation of funds to parliamentarians and provincial assembly lawmakers at the sole discretion of the prime minister or chief ministers. [The Express Tribune] [Geo News]

The move also drew heavy criticism from the country’s two major opposition parties, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which termed it a “political bribe” weeks before the Senate elections [see AiR No. 50, December/2020, 3].

9 February 2021

Pakistan: Supreme Court order shifting of released Islamist to government safe house

(lm) The Supreme Court (SC) ordered the release from prison on February 2 of a British-born Islamist who had been convicted in 2002 on charges of kidnapping and murder of an American journalist. In a decision that came under heavy criticism from the United States, the SC recommended that Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh be transferred to a government safe house as a steppingstone to his full release after spending 18 years on death row. [The Straits Times] [Dawn]

Earlier the SC had affirmed a lower court’s decision to acquit Sheikh and three co-conspirators of all charges except abduction. The journalist’s family filed a review petition, thereafter, joining Pakistan’s federal government and the provincial government of Sindh in seeking a reversal of the acquittal. However, the SC on February 1 refused to issue a restraining order, and extended the detention of all four men by one day. [AiR No. 5, February/2021, 1]

9 February 2021

Pakistan: Alliance of leading opposition parties to start long march on Islamabad on March 26

(lm) The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance of leading opposition parties, announced on February 4 it would commence its long march on the capital, Islamabad, on March 26, in a bid to pile pressure on the federal government of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Leaders of the PDM also said the alliance’s constituent parties would jointly contest the upcoming Senate election. [Hindustan Times]

According to Maulana Fazl, President of the PDM, the opposition alliance will also discuss a proposal by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) to table a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan, in addition to using resignations of parliamentarians after the Senate elections. Further elaborating, he said the opposition had rejected the government-proposed constitution amendment bill seeking open Senate vote, saying the movement believed in a comprehensive package for electoral reforms. [Dawn]

Last December, the federal government decided to hold Senate elections later this month and to invoke advisory jurisdiction of the Supreme Court on open voting for the polls [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]. The elections are to be held for 52 seats of the upper house that will fall vacant following the retirement of half of the senators on March 11. Importantly, over 65 percent of the senators who are set to retire next year belong to the opposition parties.

2 February 2021

Multinational maritime exercise AMAN-2021 set to start in February off the coast of Karachi

(lm) Pakistan’s Navy will be holding the multinational naval exercise AMAN-2021 in the port city of Karachi next month. Conducted biannually since its initiation in 2007, the exercise will bring together naval forces from 41 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Japan, Turkey, Philippines, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. Significantly, Russia last December confirmed that its Black Sea Fleet will also participate in the drills, marking the first time in a decade that the Russian navy will take part in a joint military exercise with NATO members. [The Nation]

Separately, China on January 29 launched the second Type 054A/P frigate for the Pakistan Navy, with the Pakistan Navy Chief Naval Overseer highlighting at the launch ceremony that induction of the new warship would significantly enhance the country’s maritime defense and deterrence capabilities. [Global Times]

The Pakistan Navy contracted the construction of four Type 054A/P frigates from China since 2017, and the first ship was launched in August last year [see AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]. Pakistan’s fleet of Type 054A/P warships is scheduled to grow to four by 2021. [Dawn]

2 February 2021

Pakistan, China to form joint parliamentary committee to oversee CPEC

(lm) Pakistan and China have agreed to set up a joint parliamentary committee for effective oversight of projects under the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement. The decision was made during a virtual meeting between the speaker of Pakistan’s National Assembly and the chairman of China’s National People’s Congress on January 27. [Dawn 1]

Against the larger backdrop of mounting security concerns for Chinese interests in Pakistan, the Chinese delegation also afresh pressed Islamabad to crack down on ethnic separatist groups in the provinces of Balochistan and Sindh to protect projects linked to the CPEC [see also AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3].

Coming as it does on the heels of a telephone conversation between Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi last month [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1], the meeting lends further credence to arguments that see Beijing significantly stepping up its efforts to boost the CPEC [see AiR No. 49, December/2020, 2].

But what is more, the meeting also comes after members of the opposition staged a walkout from a Senate session on January 22 after what they perceived as the lack of a satisfactory response from the government on key issues related to the CPEC Authority. [Dawn 2]

In this connection, both countries also established the China-Pakistan Agricultural and Industrial Cooperation Information Platform to synergize efforts of their agriculture sectors and related industries. [The Express Tribune]

 

2 February 2021

Pakistan calls on FATF to be removed from “grey” monitoring list

(lm) Pakistan has called on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental organization that monitors global money laundering and terrorist financing, to remove the country from the organization’s rating list of countries tagged as prone to illicit financial activity. In a letter to the FATF’s president, the chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Interior said the international watchdog should at least extend the grace period Islamabad was given to comply with the remaining action items. [The Tribune]

Context and timing of the request are noteworthy: EU Disinfo Lab, a Brussels-based NGO, last month published a report about a global network of pro-Indian fake websites and think tanks aimed at influencing decision-making in Europe. The researchers traced the websites, which were also found to involve groups responsible for anti-Pakistan lobbying events in Europe, to an Indian company. [EU Disinfo Lab]

Moreover, during the FATF’s last review in October, Islamabad was urged to complete the remaining six of the 27 parameters included in the internationally agreed action plan by February 2021 and to demonstrate that terrorism financing probes resulted in effective sanctions [see AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4]. In the run-up to the meeting, India had mounted a determined effort to hold Pakistan responsible for its role in supporting terrorism and terrorist infrastructure.

2 February 2021

Pakistan: First human rights resource portal launched

(lm) The Ministry of Human Rights in partnership with the European Union has launched Pakistan’s first Human Rights Resource Portal. The portal is designed to serve as a central repository of up-to-date and cutting-edge human rights knowledge for students, academics, practitioners and the general public, according to a statement issued on January 27. [The Express Tribune]

 

2 February 2021

Pakistan: Opposition backs out from talks with government delegation

(lm) Opposition leaders on January 25 backed out from a scheduled meeting with a three-member delegation of the Imran Khan-led government. The meeting, which was expected to lower the current rift between the two sides, was to follow up on an initial meeting held on January 22. [Dawn]

Time and context of the change of heart are noteworthy: Earlier the same day, the parliamentary group of the oppositional Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) held a meeting to discuss what strategy should be adopted for the parliamentary session. Following the meeting, which featured an address by the party’s vice president Maryam Nawaz, the opposition dropped the idea of holding the talks. But what is more, the meeting of PML-N’s parliamentary group came just one day after rumors of discord in the opposition alliance Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) over tabling a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan had emerged. [WION]

2 February 2021

Pakistan: Government plans to set up Special Economic Zone in Gilgit-Baltistan

(lm) The government of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan plans to establish a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in the Pakistan-administered region of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), the minister for Kashmir affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan said on January 27. [South Asia Monitor]

Last November, the prime minister’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and its ally Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen Pakistan (MWM) had emerged as the largest political alliance in the provincial assembly elections, despite failing to achieve a clear majority [see AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]. Shortly thereafter, Prime Minister Khan said that the newly formed government would work on a priority basis to grant ‘provisional provincial status’ to the region [see AiR No. 49, December/2020, 2].

To date, Islamabad has fallen short of declaring the strategic region as its fifth province, ostensibly to protect its claim on the entirety of Kashmir in the event of a resolution of the Kashmir dispute with India. As a consequence, the region has been caught in constitutional limbo and denied representation in Pakistan’s national legislature [see AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1]. According to observers, there is a good case to believe that elevating the status of GB has been encouraged by neighboring China, at least in part. The region is already home to the Moqpondass, a region selected for one of the proposed nine priority SEZs under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). [Eurasia Review]

In this context, the GB government’s public works department was instructed earlier this month to prepare a “project concept clearance proposal” for a new border road connecting China and Pakistan under CPEC. Currently, the two neighboring countries are connected only by the Karakoram Highway, completed in 1978, via a single crossing in the Khunjerab Pass. Importantly, beyond enhancing transport capacity, the proposed route would also enable great Pakistan military mobility by opening a new supply line from China to Pakistani forces deployed along the Line of Control (LOC), which slices the disputed Indian and Pakistani governed parts of Kashmir into two. [Profit by Pakistan Today] [South China Morning Post]

2 February 2021

Pakistan: Supreme Court affirms acquittal of Islamist convicted of beheading US journalist

(lm) Pakistan’s Supreme Court (SC) on January 28 affirmed the acquittal of a British-born Islamist and three others, who had been convicted in 2002 on charges of kidnapping and murder of a US journalist. The journalist’s family filed a review petition, joining Pakistan’s federal government and the provincial government of Sindh in seeking a reversal of the acquittal. The SC on February 1 refused to issue a restraining order but extended the detention of all four men by one day until February 2. [The Express Tribune] [The Guardian 1] [The Straits Times 1]

The High Court in the province of Sindh last April commuted the 2007 death sentence of the main defendant, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, from execution for murder to seven years in prison for kidnapping, and acquitted his three co-conspirators. As Sheikh had already served 18 years in jail, the court ordered his release. The following day, however, Pakistani authorities ordered the detention of the four men, citing “public safety” concerns. In December, the High Court set aside the government’s detention orders and ordered their immediate release. The journalist’s family and the Sindh state government both appealed against the decision in the SC and requested Sheikh’s jail sentence be extended. [The Straits Times 2]

Sheikh always denied his role, and questions remained over whether he had actually carried out the killing, or just been a secondary figure involved in the kidnapping. A recently revealed letter showed Sheikh seeming to admit a “relatively minor” role in the journalist’s murder for the first time, although his lawyer says this was written under duress. First the Sindh High Court in April last year, and the SC most recently acquitted all defendants because they found that that the prosecution had failed to prove the case against them. [The Guardian 2]

New US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on January 29 expressed Washington’s deep concern over the SC’s ruling. While talking with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Blinken reiterated that Washington was prepared to prosecute Sheikh, who had been indicted in the United States in 2002 for hostage-taking and conspiracy to commit hostage-taking, resulting in the murder of the US journalist. On January 31, however, Pakistan announced it was not going to hand over Sheikh. [Anadolu Agency] [CNN] [The Diplomat

26 January 2021

Pakistan: Authorities seize property of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

(lm) The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on January 19 revealed that it had seized properties of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The former prime minister is accused of tacitly approving the illegal allotment of land when he was serving as Chief Minister of Punjab more than 30 years ago. Sharif, who has been residing in London since November 2019, is considered by the courts to have absconded. [The Express Tribune]

The former prime minister is facing several corruption charges in Pakistan. He is also facing sedition charges for accusing the military of political interference [see AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3].

26 January 2021

Pakistan: Government ready to review new social media rules, says Attorney General

(lm) The federal government has signaled its willingness to review its new social media policy introduced last year, despite criticism from human rights activists and organizations. During a hearing at the Islamabad High Court (IHC), Pakistan’s Attorney General said on January 25 the government would revisit the rules in consultation with relevant stakeholders.  The court later adjourned the hearing of the case till February 26. [Dawn] [The Express Tribune]

In December the IHC had admitted a petition filed by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) against the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards), Rules 2020 [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]. The new rules – framed under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA) – require a social media company to remove, suspend or disable access to any online content within 24 hours, and in emergency situations, within six hours, at the Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA)’s request.

26 January 2021

Pakistan: Opposition alliance accuses ruling PTI of illicit campaign financing

(lm) The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on January 20 issued notices to all parties in parliament in a case pertaining to allegations that the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) fraudulently financed its election campaign. The previous day, leaders of the opposition alliance Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) [see latest AiR No. 50, December/2020, 3] gathered outside the ECP to protest the “unacceptable delay” in the case. [Hindustan Times] [Al Jazeera]

In 2014, a founding member of the PTI had filed a petition with the ECP, alleging the party had illicitly received funds from foreigners. Arguing that the commission does not have the authority to examine the accounts of any political party, the PTI has since approached the Islamabad High Court six times to stay the hearing of the petition. Further, the PTI filed similar petitions against the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with the ECP. Last week, the PTI admitted raising campaign funds through foreign accounts, but blamed illegalities on its agents in the United States without specifying who they were. [The Express Tribune]

Speaking after the hearing, the petitioner said he had no confidence in the (ECP)’s scrutiny committee, alleging that the PTI had submitted fake documents. [Geo News]

Separately, the ECP on January 18 suspended the membership of 154 members of the country’s Senate, national and provincial assemblies after they failed to submit statements of their assets and liabilities. The lawmakers will remain suspended until the submission of their financial statements.

26 January 2021

Pakistan Taliban “commanders” killed in northwest

(lm) Pakistan’s military announced on January 24 it had killed five members of Pakistan’s leading Taliban group, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in two separate security operations, including two senior members of different factions of the armed group. The operations had been conducted in districts of the country’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where Pakistan’s military had launched a series of operations since 2014, forcing TTP to take sanctuary over the border in Afghanistan [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]. [Al Jazeera 1]

Earlier three Pakistani soldiers were killed in an exchange of fire during an operation against rebel hideouts in South Waziristan, another district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Two attackers, who had been active members of TTP, were also killed in the intelligence operation. [Anadolu Agency]

In another incident, at least four soldiers belonging to Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) were killed and five more injured when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated near their vehicle in the province of Balochistan on January 20. The Balochistan Liberation Army, an outlawed militant organization that wages a violent armed struggle for separation of Balochistan from Pakistan, has claimed responsibility for the attack. The incident comes just a week after the provincial government launched a large-scale offensive following the killing of 11 coalminers belonging to the Shi’ite Hazara community [see AiR No. 3, January/2021, 3AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]. [South China Morning Post]

 

26 January 2021

Pakistan successfully tests long-range surface-to-surface missile

(lm) Pakistan successfully conducted on January 20 a flight-test of its Shaheen-III ballistic missile in the Northern Arabian Sea. The test flight is the latest in a series of missile tests carried out by Islamabad over the course of the past couple of weeks [see AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2]. [Anadolu Agency]

The country’s longest-range missile system, Shaheen-III was designed to reach Indian islands to deny Indian forces the “second-strike capability” – i.e., a country’s assured ability to respond to a nuclear attack with powerful nuclear retaliation against the attacker – according to a former Director General of Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division. [Al Jazeera]

26 January 2021

Pakistan wants India held ‘accountable’ for 2019 airstrike

(lm) Pakistan has urged the world community to hold longtime rival India “accountable” for the 2019 Balakot airstrike conducted last February when Indian warplanes crossed the de facto border in the disputed region of Kashmir and dropped bombs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan. [Anadolu Agency]

The move comes after a leaked WhatsApp chat between Hindu-nationalist pundit Arnab Goswani and a former media industry executive revealed that the Indian air strike inside Pakistan was pre-planned, allegedly designed to perpetuate the image of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the run up to the general elections. [South China Morning Post]

In early February 2019, a convoy of vehicles carrying security personnel was attacked by a vehicle-borne suicide bomber in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir, resulting in the deaths of more than 40 Indian paramilitary forces. The responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed. Pakistan condemned the attack and denied any connection to it.

Days later, Indian jets crossed into Pakistan and dropped bombs on the outskirts of the village of Balakot, characterizing the airstrike a preemptive strike directed against a terrorist training camp. The following day, in a tit-for-tat airstrike, the Pakistani Air Force shot down two Indian aircraft and arrested a pilot, who was later released as a “goodwill gesture.” [AiR (1/3/2019)AiR (4/2/2019)

26 January 2021

India starts construction on power project, despite objections from Pakistan

(lm) India‘s government on January 20 approved a $720 million investment for a run-of-the-river hydroelectric power station on the Chenab River in the Jammu and Kashmir union territory. Formed by the confluence of two rivers, Chandra and Bhaga, the Chenab River is a major river that flows in India and Pakistan. Islamabad has routinely opposed the construction out of fears that New Delhi could use the reservoirs to create deliberate and artificial water shortage or cause flooding in Pakistan. [livemint]

Pakistan has repeatedly raised its concerns with the World Bank, stating that India’s project was not in accordance with the Indus Water Treaty (IWT), a water-distribution treaty brokered by finance institution to use the water available in the Indus River and its tributaries. Signed in 1960, the Treaty allocates the Chenab River to Pakistan for exploitation, while India is entitled to use its water for domestic and agricultural uses or for “non-consumptive” uses such as hydropower. [The Express Tribune]

In her article Priyanka Bhide considers linkages between water security and socio-economic growth for six selected cities across India, where a rapidly increasing population and urbanization have driven up water demands all across the country. [China Water Risk]

26 January 2021

Indian army helicopter crashes in Kashmir

(lm) An Indian army helicopter crash-landed along the disputed along the Line of Control (LoC) on January 25, leaving one pilot dead and another critically injured. The incident occurred just days after an Indian soldier was shot dead by Pakistani snipers in the Jammu district. [Express] [Kahsmir Observer]

19 January 2021

China, Pakistan pose potential threat, says Indian Army Chief Naravane

(lm) Indian Army Chief General Naravane said on January 12 that Pakistan and China continue to pose threats to the northern and eastern borders of India, adding that India was facing the possibility of a two-front conflict due to increased cooperation between the two countries. While addressing the media on the eve of India’s Army Day, Naravane also commented on the ongoing border stand-off with China in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, saying that Indian troops deployed along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) were prepared to “hold our ground as long as it takes”. [The New Indian Express]

While initially confirming the recent re-deployment of some 10,000 Chinese soldiers from some training areas on the adjacent Tibetan plateau [see AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2], the army chief also dampened expectations by adding that no change of posture had occurred on friction points along the LAC, where both sides had entered a winter deployment situation. [Anadolu Agency]

Talks between the two countries have all but been deadlocked since military officials last met in December – after more than 40 days without any dialogue – with both sides reinforcing their positions and digging their heels in, since then. [AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]. Observers of the months-long stand-off suggest the current pause in talks might be a strategic maneuver by Beijing as it casts an eye on Washington to get a better sense of what US President-elect Joe Biden’s policy toward China will entail. [South China Morning Post]

In this context, two recent events assume added significance, as they may be shaping Beijing’s considerations of US policy. To begin with, the outgoing US ambassador to India confirmed earlier this month that Washington and New Delhi had been working in “close coordination”, to help India counter what he referred to as “sustained […] aggressive Chinese activity on its border”. While the ambassador declined to provide further details, there is a good case to believe that New Delhi is relying on Washington for sharing geospatial data from airborne and satellite sensor [see AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1], as well as emergency purchases of cold-weather equipment for its personnel in the Himalayas [see AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3].

A case in point, photographs recently published by a US-based imaging company suggest that China continues construction work along the borer areas with India. [The Times of India]

What is more, a 2018 US document on its Indo-Pacific strategy was declassified on January 11, laying bare Washington’s view that India was “pre-eminent in South Asia” and that a “strong India” would “act as counterbalance to China”. [The Wire] [U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific]

19 January 2021

China in the “U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific” 

(dql) Shortly before Joe Biden will be sworn in as US President in this week, the Trump administration declassified and published the “U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific”, approved by President Trump in 2018 and stamped secret and not for release to foreign nationals until 2043. 

The 10-page national security strategy paper identifies maintaining “U.S. strategic primacy over the Indo-Pacific region,” and promoting “a liberal economic order, while preventing China from establishing new, illiberal spheres of influence and cultivating areas of cooperation to promote regional peace and prosperity” one of three national security challenges, along with North Korea’s threat to the US and its allies as well as the advancement of US global economic leadership. 

Furthermore, the document assumes that the “[s]trategic competition between the United States and China will persists,” with China “circumvent[ing] international norms and rules to gain advantage,” and seeking to “dissolve U.S. alliances and partnerships,” in order to “exploit vacuums and opportunities created by these diminished bonds.”

As an desired outcome with regards to China, the “United States and its partners on every continent” shall become “resistant to Chinese activities aimed at undermining their sovereignty, including through covert or coercive influence.” [White House, USA]

For a concise assessment of what has been achieved under this strategic framework, see Grant Newsham in [Asia Times] who argues that “Trump and his staff are handing off to Joseph Biden an Indo-Pacific that is better off than it was in 2017. 

19 January 2021

Pakistan: Government approves reform package for Auditor General of Pakistan

(lm) The federal government on January 12 approved legal amendments for laws governing the work of the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP), the supreme audit institution tasked with ensuring public accountability, fiscal transparency, and oversight in governmental operations. [Profit by Pakistan Today]

Considering the organization’s pivotal role in bringing about improvements in the financial discipline and minimizing the possibility of waste and fraud, the amendments are aimed at extending the AGP’s purview to autonomous bodies which had hitherto been getting their accounts audited from private firms. [Dawn]

19 January 2021

United Kingdom keen to boost trade with Pakistan

(lm) During a visit to the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI), the British Deputy High Commissioner in Karachi has conveyed London’s interest in increasing bilateral trade with Pakistan. The two countries identified four areas for close cooperation, namely healthcare, education, green energy, and infrastructure. [The Express Tribune]

Since the transition period for Brexit ended on December 31, the United Kingdom is free to negotiate its own trade deals with other countries, like the United States. To reduce the adverse effects of the economic disruption, London has been looking for trading opportunities elsewhere. In mid-November Prime Minister Johnson announced a major addition to the UK government’s ability to attract foreign investment, in the form of a newly established Office for Investment.

Shortly thereafter, India and the UK held ministerial talks to review their progress towards a bilateral post-Brexit Enhanced Trade Partnership, which could lead to a free trade agreement in the future. London has also proposed establishment of a UK-Bangladesh Trade and Investment Dialogue aimed at deepening the trading relationship between the two countries. A government to government (G2G) trade meeting is set to be held in later this month. [AiR No. 49, December/2020, 2]

19 January 2021

Pakistan Navy successfully test-fires anti-ship missiles, torpedoes

(lm) Pakistan’s Navy sank a retired ship on January 12 using missiles and torpedoes launched from submarines in the Arabian Sea. [Anadolu Agency]

The exercise came after the navy last month assumed command of the Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151), a multinational naval task force conducting counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and off the eastern coast of Somalia. The command of CTF-151 was previously held by the Turkish Navy.

19 January 2021

At UN, Pakistan calls for outlawing violent nationalist groups

(lm) Laying out an “action plan” before the 15-member United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Pakistan has urged the principal organ to designate “violent nationalist groups”, including India’s right-wing, Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), as proscribed outfits, saying they would pose “a clear […] danger to regional and international peace and security”. [The Express Tribune] [Anadolu Agency]

RSS is the progenitor and leader of a large body of organizations called the “Sangh Parivar” (Family of the RSS) that also includes the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

 

19 January 2021

Pakistani security forces launch offensive in Balochistan province

(lm) Following the killing of 11 coalminers belonging to the Shi’ite Hazara community [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1], Pakistan has launched a large-scale offensive in the province of Balochistan province, the providence’s home minister announced on January 11. Coming in the wake of the death of Karima Baloch, a Pakistani Baloch human rights activist and dissident, the announcement has raised concerns that the operation is also aimed at dealing a long-lasting blow to the struggle for independence of Balochistan. [Daiji World]

Analysts believe the brutal killing of the coalminers by Islamic State militants to be the latest in a series of attacks targeting projects under the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC), the $50 billion Pakistan component of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The city of Bostan, which is set to become one of a total of nine Special Economic Zones under the second phase of CPEC, is located just 100 kilometers north of the village where the coalminers were killed. Hence, the deadly attacks have put Pakistan in a tight spot, given that Beijing has long been pressing Islamabad to crack down on both ethnic separatist groups as well as IS militants to protect projects linked to the CPEC [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]. [Nikkei Asia]

19 January 2021

Pakistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan issue joint “Islamabad Declaration”

(lm) Turkey, Pakistan, and Azerbaijan have agreed to formulate a joint strategy in which they agreed to support each other on various international forums on matters pertaining to territorial conflicts. The agreement was reached on January 13 at the Second Trilateral Meeting between the three countries, attended by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, and his Pakistani and Azerbaijani counterparts, Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Jeyhun Bayramov. [Anadolu Agency] [Hurriyet Daily News]

For a start, successive Pakistani governments have backed Ankara’s position on the Cyprus dispute, an ethnic dispute between Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities. Moreover, Islamabad and Ankara already have a substantive defense and security cooperation, which was initially boosted with significant defense deals in 2018, elevating Turkey to become Pakistan’s second-biggest arms supplier after China [see AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4AiR No. 46, November/2019, 2]. Ankara is currently building four MILGEM-class war ships for the Pakistan Navy, inter alia, while it also has purchased 52 Mashahk training aircraft from Islamabad.

Located at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, Azerbaijan has had close ties with both Pakistan and Turkey since becoming an independent state in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. More recently, Turkish-made unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) gave Baku the upper hand in the military escalation with Armenia, which relied on tanks, artillery, and missiles. [TRT World]

While Ankara already has a strong strategic military partnership with Baku, Islamabad is also looking to strengthen bilateral military ties. Just earlier this month, the air chiefs of Azerbaijan and Pakistan met and discussed joint pilot training and military exercises. [Daily Pakistan]

12 January 2021

Pakistan: Leader of group linked to 2008 Mumbai attacks sentenced to five years in jail for terror financing

An anti-terrorism court sentenced Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, leader of the Islamist terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), to five years imprisonment and a fine over a charges of terrorism financing. Earlier this month, Lakhvi was arrested in the eastern city of Lahore where he was running a medical dispensary that he allegedly used to collect funds for militant activities [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]. [Dawn]

12 January 2021

Pakistan: Anti-terrorism court sentences three to death for sharing blasphemous content on social media

(lm) An anti-terrorism court (ATC) has sentenced to death three men for social media posts deemed blasphemous. A fourth accused, a college professor, was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for a “blasphemous” lecture he had delivered in the classroom. The convicted people can appeal in two higher courts to overturn their conviction or ask for mercy from the president. [Al Jazeera] [Dawn]

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive subject in Pakistan, where insulting the Prophet Muhammad carries the death penalty. Even mere accusations of blasphemy have incited mass protests and mob lynching even before their trials were concluded in courts [see e.g., AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4].

 

12 January 2021

Pakistan: Shia Hazara community ends protest as Prime Minister Khan visits Quetta

(lm) Protests over the killing of 11 Shi’ite Hazara miners in the city of Quetta were finally called off on January 9, after the provincial government of Balochistan and representatives of the Hazara community reached an agreement. Tens of thousands gathered for the burial of the 11 coalminers, who were killed by Islamic State militants earlier this month [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]. [The Straits Times] [Arab News]

Accompanied by Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived in Quetta the following day to meet with the families of the deceased. Before then, the protests had further spread to other cities of the country, including the southern metropolis of Karachi, with protesters demanding the dissolution of the provincial government of Balochistan and strong action by Islamabad to find and punish the culprits. The prime minister had also come under fire for saying he would not let protesters blackmail him into coming to Quetta. [Dawn 1] [Dawn 2] [The EurAsian Times] [Reuters]

12 January 2021

Pakistan: Pakistan observes annual Right to Self-determination of Kashmiris Day

(lm) Rallies and seminars were held across Pakistan and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir to mark the annual Right to Self-determination of Kashmiris Day on January 5. On this day in 1949, the United Nations committed that the Jammu and Kashmir dispute would be decided through a free and fair plebiscite. The same day, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning the grave human rights violations in occupied Kashmir. [Anadolu Agency]

Addressing the upper house of parliament, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi reaffirmed Islamabad’s support to the pro-freedom struggle in Indian-administered Kashmir, saying Pakistan was part of the Kashmiris’ “movement for self-determination.” Qureshi also said Islamabad expects an active United States role vis-à-vis the resolution of the long-standing dispute. [Profit Pakistan]

Winding up the Senate session, the foreign minister the next day invited lawmakers from three mainstream opposition parties – the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) – for talks to chalk out a comprehensive action plan aimed at resolution of the lingering Kashmir dispute. [Dawn]

12 January 2021

Pakistan conducts successful test flight of Fatah-1 rocket system

(lm) Pakistan successfully conducted a test flight of Fatah-1, an indigenously developed guided multi-launch rocket system. Last February, amid heightened tensions with neighboring India, Islamabad carried out a successful test of its Ra’ad-II cruise missile. A month earlier, Pakistan tested the Ghaznavi ballistic missile, which has a range of 290 kilometers, just days after India tested its submarine-launched K-4 ballistic missile. Anadolu Agency]

12 January 2021

Turkmenistan, Pakistan agree to deepen bilateral trade

(lm) During a meeting between Turkmenistan’s ambassador to Pakistan and an Adviser to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, both sides agreed to deepen trade relations between the two countries. Located in a landlocked but resource-rich region, Turkmenistan expressed keen interest in connecting with Pakistan’s warm water ports – most notably the China-operated Gwadar port. [The Express Tribune] [Profit by Pakistan Today]

To gain access to the economies of neighboring countries, Islamabad is already working on a trilateral railway project connecting Pakistan with Afghanistan and Uzbekistan [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5].

12 January 2021

Saudi Arabia fails to sign debt suspension pact with Pakistan

(lm) Saudi Arabia failed to sign a formal agreement with Pakistan for debt suspension under the G-20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI), which offers a temporary suspension of government-to-government debt payments to 76 countries. A deadline for phase-1 of the suspension initiative covering a period from May to December 2020 expired on December 31 last year. [The Express Tribune]

Since the DSSI was approved last April [see AiR No. 16, April/2020, 3], Islamabad had entered into negotiations with 21 creditor countries for debt suspension amounting to $1.7 billion. According to the Economic Affairs Ministry, Pakistan successfully negotiated and concluded rescheduling agreements with 19 bilateral creditors, including members of the so-called Paris Club group of major creditor countries. Thus, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are the two remaining countries that are yet to ratify debt suspension agreements with Pakistan.

Last year, Saudi Arabia already decided to withdraw its cash-support to Pakistan, withdrawing 2$ billion in loan and cancelling investment commitments of another $20 billion in Pakistan. At the time, China had come forward and extended $1 billion in loan to help Islamabad avoid any adverse impact of the partial withdrawal of the Saudi lifeline [see AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]. Riyadh also asked its ally UAE to choke Islamabad economically by suspending work visas to its citizens [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4].

12 January 2021

Pakistan cannot recognize Israel, says Prime Minister Imran Khan

(lm) Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on January 6 said Islamabad would refuse to recognize Israel until a viable two-state solution was reached in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Further elaborating, the prime minister provided two reasons, the first one being a potential loss of “moral standing” on the Kashmir conflict. On the second reason, Khan then cited Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, who in 1948 said that Pakistan could never accept Israel as long as Palestinians are not given their rights and there was no just settlement.[Anadolu Agency]

Touching on ties between Turkey and Pakistan, the prime minister recalled the “historical linkage” between the two countries and said they will not forget the support and help Turkey has given to Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. [The EurAsian Times]

12 January 2021

Pakistan, United States hold joint consultations over strategic defense dialogue

(lm) A US delegation led by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs visited Pakistan’s General Headquarters (GHQ) on January 7 to hold formal consultations on under the Pakistan-US Strategic Level Defense Dialogue. While discussing opportunities for strengthening bilateral defense cooperation on counterterrorism, the senior US official reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to a “long-term mutually-beneficial security partnership” with Islamabad. [The Express Tribune]

5 January 2021

Islamic State militants kill coal miners in southwestern province of Balochistan

(lm) Islamic State militants in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan have killed at least 11 workers at a remote coal mine, authorities said on December 3. Police video of the bodies revealed the miners were blindfolded and had their hands tied behind their backs before being shot. The victims were said to be members of the minority Shiite Hazara community, which is often targeted by Sunni militant groups, including the Islamic State group, who consider them heretics. [Al Jazeera] [Deutsche Welle]

Following the incident, hundreds of Shiites blocked a key highway on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Quetta, the coffins with the miners’ bodies laid out on the ground before them, insisting they would not be buried until authorities arrest the killers. [Associated Press]

 

5 January 2021

Pakistan: Supreme Court takes up Senate election reference

(lm) Pakistan’s Supreme Court (SC) on January 4 commenced the hearing for a presidential reference seeking advisory jurisdiction on holding the upcoming Senate elections through open ballot. The reference was filed by the federal government after it decided to hold elections for the 52 seats that will fall vacant following the retirement of some senators from the 104-member upper house in March next year [see AiR No. 50, December/2020, 3]. [The Express Tribune 1] [The Nation]

Filed by the Attorney General earlier last week, the reference seeks the apex court’s opinion on Prime Minister Imran Khan‘s plan to hold the election for members of the Senate utilizing show of hands. Further, the government seeks legal guidance on amending Section 122(6) of the Elections Act, 2017 through an ordinance before the commencement of the election. The presidential reference further argues that there is national consensus amongst all major political parties, jurists and civil society that the electoral process should be cleansed of the pervasive practice of vote buying in elections to the Senate. [Dawn]

Separately, the oppositional Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) on December 1 decided to participate in the upcoming by-elections [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4] but postponed a decision about contesting the Senate elections. The 11-party alliance also decided to hold protests at the offices of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) later this month.

The PDM meeting was held a day after its deadline for collecting resignations of national and provincial lawmakers belonging to its constituent parties ended on December 31 [see AiR No. 50, December/2020, 3]. It also came a week after the Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – a constituent party of the PDM – had decided to take part not only in by-polls but also in the Senate elections. [The Express Tribune 2] [The Express Tribune 3]

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) also stands divided on participating in the upcoming Senate elections, with one group supporting the PPP’s stance of not leaving the field open for the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), while another group had advocated boycotting the contest, seeing a meagre benefit for the party. [Asian News International]

 

5 January 2021

Pakistan: Abducted lawyer appears before Islamabad High Court

(lm) The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on January 4 once again expressed concern over the “deteriorating law and order situation” in the capital after a lawyer, who had been abducted from his home by unidentified individuals two days earlier, appeared in court to detail the ordeal he allegedly went through. In his detailed order, the IHC also noted that the Islamabad Capital Territory is directly supervised and administratively controlled by the federal government. A group of 12-15 people posing as members of the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) had kidnapped the lawyer late on Saturday night but released him after keeping him in illegal detention for forty-eight hours. [Dawn]

Extrajudicial abductions and enforced disappearances by shadowy military agencies have been a feature of life in Pakistan for two decades. Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly pledged to end the practice, but since he became prime minister in 2018, the disappearances have continued [see e.g., AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4], while accountability seems as elusive as ever.

 

5 January 2021

Pakistan: Passport of former Prime Minister Sharif to be cancelled in February, says interior minister

(lm) Against the larger backdrop of Islamabad’s failure to persuade the United Kingdom to repatriate former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan on December 30 announced that it was planning to cancel Sharif’s passport in mid-February. Sharif, who was jailed in a corruption case in 2018, has been residing in London since November last year after a court granted him indefinite bail to seek medical treatment. The former prime minister is facing several corruption charges in Pakistan and is considered by the courts to have absconded. He is also facing sedition charges for accusing the military of political interference [see AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]. [Dawn] [Hindustan Times]

In October, Pakistan’s federal government had written to British authorities for a third time, requesting the UK to consider cancelling Sharif’s visa [see also AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]. Responding in writing, British Home Secretary Priti Patel pointed out that the UK government was subject to international law, adding that London would give a potential extradition treaty request ‘full attention the provision of UK law.’ Pakistan currently has no extradition treaty with the UK. In response, Islamabad the same month withdrew clearance for a flight chartered by the UK to take deportees from London to Islamabad. While Pakistan has denied any links to the row over Nawaz Sharif’s repatriation, the move last month prompted a letter from Patel to a Special Assistant to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4].

Separately, a British High Court has ordered debiting more than $28 million from the bank accounts of Pakistan’ High Commission in London, after more than two years Islamabad had lost a long-running arbitration case against a foreign asset recovery firm. [WION] [The New Indian Express]

5 January 2021

Pakistan: Provincial government will pay to rebuild Hindu temple destroyed by mob

(lm) A Hindu temple in northwestern Pakistan will be rebuilt using provincial government funds, after it was destroyed by a Muslim mob last week. Around 1,500 people descended on the temple after protesting the alleged expansion of the century-old temple, using sledgehammers to damage the structure’s walls before setting the building on fire. The mob was led by a radical cleric and supporters of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), one of Pakistan’s largest Islamic parties. [The Straits Times] [Deutsche Welle

Hindus constitute Pakistan’s largest non-Muslim minority, estimated at between two and four percent of the population, most of whom live near the Indian border in the southern province of Sindh. Discrimination and violence against religious minorities has been growing in Pakistan for the last five years, with more frequent attacks on places of worship [see latest AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2]. Following the incident, dozens of Hindus rallied in the southern port city of Karachi to demand the rebuilding of their place of worship. [South China Morning Post]

 

5 January 2021

Pakistan urges UN to prevent “judicial murder” of Kashmiri separatist

(lm) Pakistan called on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on January 1 to prevent the “judicial murder” of Asiya Andrabi, founding leader of Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of the Nation, DeM). A part of the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), DeM is an all-woman outfit that advocates jihad to establish Islamic law in Kashmir and to establish a separate state from India. A Delhi court last month ordered framing charges against Andrabi and her two associates for allegedly “waging war against India” and other unlawful activities, two years after she was taken into custody by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s federal anti-terror organization. [Dawn]

5 January 2021

Leader of group linked to 2008 Mumbai attacks arrested in Pakistan

(lm) Pakistan authorities on January 2 arrested Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, leader of the Islamist terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), over a separate case of terrorism financing. Lakhvi was arrested in the eastern city of Lahore where he was running a medical dispensary that he allegedly used to collect funds for militant activities. [The Straits Times]

One of the largest militant organizations in South Asia, LeT is accused by India of plotting the 2008 Mumbai attacks that left at least 174 people dead and more than 300 wounded. The Indian government’s view is that Pakistan, particularly through its intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has both supported the group. Lakhvi was detained in 2015 over the attacks but granted bail months later. Since then, the government had slapped him with a series of detention orders, but judges repeatedly cancelled them. [The Hindu]

Context and timing of the arrest are significant, coming in the run-up to a series of meetings of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental organization that monitors global money laundering and terrorist financing. During the FATF’s last review in October, Islamabad was urged to complete the internationally agreed action plan by February 2021 and to demonstrate that terrorism financing probes resulted in effective sanctions [see AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4].

Earlier this year, Pakistan also arrested firebrand cleric and alleged mastermind of the attacks Hafiz Saeed, who heads the Islamist militant organization Jama’at-ud-Da’wah (JuD), a wing of LeT, for terrorism financing. An anti-terrorism court sentenced Saeed to fifteen-and-a-half years in prison on charges of terrorism financing last week – his fourth conviction this year on similar charges [see AiR No. 47, November/2020, 4]. [AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]

5 January 2021

Pakistan to buy costliest LNG amid increasing gas shortage

(lm) Against the backdrop of an intensifying domestic gas crisis [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4], Pakistan LNG, the state-run procurement agency, will be buying an all-time high priced Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) to secure cargoes for February. Meeting with industrialists, President Arif Alvi, meanwhile, promised to take up the matter with concerned ministers. [Geo News] [The Express Tribune]

LNG spot buying has become a topic of intense debate in the South Asian country, where gas demand peaks in December and January as people use more natural gas to heat homes during the winter [see AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2].

5 January 2021

Pakistan, China agree on need to deepen cooperation

(lm) During a telephone conversation between Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, both sides on December 31 agreed to deepen their cooperation and work together for peace and stability in the region. The same day, representatives of both countries signed a loan agreement worth $100 million for the rehabilitation of the National Highway N-5 Project, an 1819-km road artery linking the port of Karachi to Peshawar and the Afghan border. [Dawn] [The Nation]

To maintain the momentum of high-level exchange, Chinese President Xi Jinping was scheduled to visit Islamabad early this year. However, it now appears that the trip may not happen in the coming months as Qureshi has been invited to visit Beijing, instead.

China, meanwhile, has dismissed reports that it sought additional guarantees from Pakistan before sanctioning a $6 billion loan for the construction of a railway line project [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]. Beijing also rejected claims that it was moving away from its initial commitments to Islamabad under the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement, after Pakistani media had reported that concerns over Pakistan’s ability to pay back loans had emerged in recent negotiations. [WION] [The Hindu]